Letter to the Editor: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives that exclude Jews is not progress

A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: This letter to the editor was published by The Butler Collegian after numerous rounds of fact-checking. The opinions contained in this letter are those of the author. The Butler Collegian is committed to sharing diverse viewpoints from across the university and is committed to upholding values of free speech, but does not endorse or promote opinions contained within any letter to the editor. The Collegian will continue to investigate and share more information with the community as it becomes available to us.

On behalf of Jewish and Zionist students at Butler, we write to express our voice in hopes that our fellow students, and all readers, will read these words with the intention of broadening your understanding of our lived experience over the past several days.

First, we want to thank both Frank Ross, Vice President of Student Affairs, and SGA for releasing statements that outline the facts and reasoning behind the decision to postpone the Angela Davis event.

Facts are important, as is process — two things that we as college students may wrestle with at times, but both of which are essential to ensuring that progress can actually be made on some of the most pressing issues of our time, like justice, equity and inclusion.

The facts are these: Jewish students played no role in the postponement decision. We learned about the event at the same time as everyone else on campus. We learned about the decision to postpone the event at the same time as everyone else on campus, on Tuesday, March 30. SGA allies reached out to us when they realized the process they adopted into the SGA constitution was not followed. We were never invited into any conversations with the Diversity Center or the DEI Board. We never advocated that Angela Davis should not be allowed to speak on our campus. We have always supported the right of any student organization to host any speaker they choose on this campus. Our concerns have always been about whether SGA — an elected body that is supposed to represent the breadth of the student body, including Jewish and Zionist students — should officially co-sponsor and pay for events that marginalize a group of students.

Those are the facts. But the story doesn’t end there. The statements from the administration and SGA fail to acknowledge the fact that the words published in the Collegian that scapegoat Zionists, and by association, Jews, are now causing real harm to Jewish students on our campus.

Words matter — they have consequences, and they have history. The words and accusations that have now gone viral globally blame Butler’s “Zionist students” for “bombarding” the administration with “pressure” to “silence free speech” and imply that we are “complicit in the systems of racism and oppression.”

Let us be clear, the use of the word “Zionist” is meant to be derogatory and is a thinly veiled code for “Jew.” The accusations in the letter to the editor draw on and perpetuate the age-old antisemitic tropes of Jewish power/control, scapegoating and silencing. And we know that by calling out this hateful rhetoric, we will be accused, again, of silencing others in order to gain sympathy — another antisemitic trope.

So what has been the impact of this hate speech directed against us? The letter to the editor has gone viral and spawned dozens of posts, tweets and memes that accuse us of being racist and worse. We have been targeted and called out in our classrooms, dorm rooms, greek houses and social circles. We feel intimidated, fearful and yes, unsafe on a campus that is now toxic with antisemitic rhetoric. So much so that some of us are hesitant to share that we are Jewish. And we know that unfortunately, even this statement itself will be used against us.

Jewish students at Butler constitute a diverse community whose members have multifaceted identities. We may identify as Jewish in many ways — through our religion, our culture, our ethnicity or our 3,000-year history and connection to the biblical land of Israel. We have members of our community who are also LGBTQ+, Black, Latinx, Middle Eastern and AAPI. We are diverse in our opinions about Israel and Palestine. We should not be intimidated or prevented from entering spaces designed to be “inclusive” — especially bodies with the word “inclusion” in their very name —  because of our support for the very existence of any State of Israel in our ancestral homeland.

And we should not have to stand alone when words with such a dangerous history are casually thrown around, and when outright lies are spewed against us.

We too ask to be seen and heard; we ask for our experiences to be valued; we ask that we be allowed to enter progressive conversations with our whole selves to expand our learning and activism alongside our fellow Bulldogs.

If, after reading this, you’ve learned something new, gained some empathy, will be more thoughtful about the quickness with which you share a post that blames Jews, or if you’re now more curious to understand more about your fellow Jewish students — we say thank you for listening.

If, after reading this, you hear a voice in your head saying, “But they do have power…” or “of course they would claim antisemitism…” or “this is another way they’re silencing a marginalized oppressed group…” then sadly, it’s you who are being complicit in allowing dangerous rhetoric to fester unabated on our campus and in our society.

Words matter. Will you use words that hurt, or help?

Lauren Carrier, Hillel President

Madison Pines, Hillel Vice President

Noah Reinstein, Hillel Treasurer

Diana Ningen, Hillel Religious Life Chair

Miriam Berne, Hillel Outreach Chair

Molly Stern, Hillel Social Action Chair

Lily Wallack, Hillel Marketing Chair

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