On protests, encampments, freedom of expression

I’ve been writing about the situation in Israel and Gaza since October 7th when I posted a blog entry here. More recently, I have called for a humanitarian cease fire, considered issues of academic freedom, and thought about the relevance of Passover to these events.

Yesterday, I sent the following message to the Wesleyan community about protests on campus. I reproduce it here:

Dear friends,

This morning you can find pro-Palestinian protesters camped out behind North College. The students there know that they are in violation of university rules and seem willing to accept the consequences. The protest has been non-violent and has not disrupted normal campus operations. As long as it continues in this way, the University will not attempt to clear the encampment. The University will not tolerate intimidation or harassment of students, staff, or faculty. Protesters assure us that they have no intention of engaging in these kinds of actions. We will continue to monitor the situation to keep everyone safe and will send updates as necessary.

There will be many on campus who cheer on the protesters, and many who are offended or even frightened by their rallies and messages. But as long as we all reject violence, we have opportunities to listen and to learn from one another. This may not happen during the chanting and drumming, but it can happen during some of the planned discussion sessions and deep conversations that will take place throughout the week.

This is a challenging time in world affairs and in the lives of many—including college students—concerned about their own relation to the brutal war in the Middle East. May we at Wesleyan find ways to learn from this difficult moment—determining what it is we can do to serve the goal of a sustainable peace—even as we finish out this academic year.

With hope,

Michael S. Roth

A Passover of Peace, a Celebration of Freedom

At Beckham Hall tonight many Wesleyans will join in the first Seder meal that marks the beginning of Passover. You can find out more information about the holiday on campus here. Our family gathered at my brother’s house yesterday for an early Seder, which was filled with the pleasures of breaking matzot together (and eating my matzah ball soup, my only culinary achievement). We talked of politics and education, family stories and sports. And we all marveled at our newest family member, baby Ruby, who reminded us all of how much joy one can get from simply getting another person smile….even giggle.

Part of the Seder is a reflection on the idea that if oppression and slavery still exist, then none of us are really free. At our Seder table, we talked about this in regard to the Palestinians and the Ukrainians, and in regard to the numerous ways in which violence continues to undermine freedom in so many places closer to home.

I hadn’t yet heard of the shooting in front of the Jewish Community Center in Overlook Park, Kansas. Three people were killed in the attack, according to press reports; all three were Christians devoted to family and community. The alleged shooter taken into custody is said to have ties to Nazi groups. He has long been a hate monger with a strong anti-Semitic and racist reputation. As Jay Michaelson wrote in the Forward: “Overland Park should issue a wake-up call. Oppression against one minority is oppression against all. And we Jews should not forget.”

None of us should forget: Oppression against one minority is oppression against all. As we strive to make our own campus community a place of peace, let us remember to struggle against oppression wherever we may find it.

Whatever tradition you belong to, why not use this week to think more about how we can contribute to ending oppression, making our communities places of peace.