Note: This article is the third in a series of three that covers student and faculty response to the administration’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and ways the NU community can create safe spaces for learning and healing on campus.
President Schill’s letters and the University’s response to the Israel-Palestine crisis has prompted some NU community members to think about the significance of educational discourse and how the University could provide better resources for its Muslim and affiliate students. In addition to vigils and affinity spaces, various faculty members and students have hosted teach-ins to add a more nuanced perspective to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) hosted a teach-in about Zionism, Hindu Nationalism, Palestinian liberation and building solidarity on Nov. 7 in partnership with the Asian American Studies Program, NU’s Asian Pacific American Coalition and The Jasmine Collective of South Asian Students. Weinberg second-year Nadia* said SJP has also been involved in other teaching opportunities, including hosting a Black and Palestinian solidarity event, sharing resources on social media and organizing a walk out and vigil.
The Jewish Studies department also hosted a teach-in on Oct. 16 where Professors Maayan Hilel, Hanna Seltzer, Shmulik Nili and David Shyovitz spoke about the historical, political and cultural background behind the crisis. Political Science Professor Wendy Pearlman hosted her own teach-in four days later titled “Palestine and Israel 101: What is the conflict all about?”
David Shyovitz, an Associate Professor of History, suggested that, while it is crucial for students to seek out the resources and support they require, it is equally essential for universities to create an atmosphere that fosters learning and a forum for open ideas within the academic community. Shyvotiz says it’s important for universities to provide students with the best resources they need to “make their own decisions in an important way.”
“Students should absolutely be seeking out and should be provided with resources that they need to feel supported,” Shyovitz said. “But what our job is, is to make them feel intellectually challenged and enriched. So if there's going to be disagreement on campus, about Russia and Ukraine, or Armenia and Azerbaijan, or Israel and Palestine, let's make sure that the conflict that's happening is on the basis of people who know what they're talking about.”
Research assistant professor at Northwestern Alithia Zamantakis said students, faculty and staff should take advantage of this moment to learn.
“Universities provide a really important place where people can come together and learn and grieve and figure out where to go forward together. It’s one of the few places in this country where you can just sit and exist with other people and be in that space,” she said.
“We need more of those spaces where people can come together with their ideas and their analysis and their feelings and talk it through and figure out, ‘How do we take care of one another? What do we do about what's going on?’”Alithia Zamantakis, research assistant professor
Pearlman said that while it’s important to be respectful in discussion, this can’t hinder the NU community from having tough conversations. When dealing with an issue of hard truths, power, violence, historical injustice and rights denied, she said, the Northwestern community can’t afford to skirt around tough issues.
“We have to balance the kind of atmosphere of care that takes seriously people's well-being and their feelings. But to also remember that as a University, our obligation is to challenge you guys as students. Our obligation is to push outside comfort zones with care. This is where learning happens. This is where growth happens,” Pearlman said.
Ingram highlighted the duty of professors to help students make sense of the world, especially when messaging from authority can have singular focus and fall short in acknowledging the broader context surrounding complex issues.
“One thing we do as educators is discuss context, study context – that is how we as scholars of religion, as historians, as anthropologists – really anyone in the humanities – make sense of and explain the world,” Ingram said.
Pearlman echoed this sentiment.
“My job is to have read widely and read carefully so that I can go into my classroom and say, ‘This is what, to the best of my ability and understanding, my studies, I understand to be what scholars have found through their research. These are things that there's some sort of consensus on as being historically accurate. Here are things on which there's debate and which we should have debate and conversation.’ Your different interpretations are different perspectives to provide students with the tools they need for their own opinions,” Pearlman said.
While Pearlman said she and the Middle East and North African Studies department are “doing what [they] can” to support marginalized students on campus by hosting teach-ins, she said the University needs to have a bigger role in providing resources for these students.
She said a group of professors, including herself, are looking to ask the University for an expansion in resources for Palestinian studies and to hire more Palestinian faculty.
“This is something in which the University needs to invest more resources and create more venues of institutional support to rectify the kind of disparities of care,”Wendy Pearlman, political science professor