I want to start this by stating that I do not identify myself as Jewish. However, I strongly care about people who do, and I do not accept intolerance or discrimination of any type regardless of my connection to it.On Dec. 7, we spent the majority of class discussing the impacts of the impending visit of Valerie Plame Wilson. Before class, I was only somewhat familiar with her work and was unaware of her recent ignorance and degradation towards the American Jewish population. Her behavior in publicly sharing an explicitly anti-Semitic article entitled "America's Jews Are Driving America's Wars,” is unacceptable and inexcusable even with her insufficient attempts at making an apology. During class, we spent over an hour commenting on, debating and supporting each other in reference to this topic and her actions.
I was very impressed with the overall quantity and quality of the content of the discussion. In my following class, the same topic was raised. However, the response to it was staggeringly different. We spent less than twenty minutes on the topic with less of a third of the class participating. In each class, I raised a comment referencing the overall ignorance and disregard for the existence of anti-Semitism in the United States. With this comment, I used the current case of Al Franken, a Democrat who recently announced his resignation from Congress after several accusations of sexual misconduct and assault. I questioned whether the same response from students and faculty would be seen if the actions taken by the visitor involved sexual assault or racism. I feel as though my question was answered not through verbal communication but by the actions taken by the students in both of my classes.
One of the things that struck out to me when differentiating between my experiences in each class was that in my first class, several participants identified as being part of the Smith College Jewish Community. While those students were not the only ones participating, their presence and clearly voiced thoughts and opinions helped rouse the actions of the rest of the class. People were able to voice their views as well as gain insight. In my following class, it appeared that no one identified as being Jewish and the conversation lacked the reverence I had seen previously. While my intention is not to shame anyone for not speaking out, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of actions taken. With this letter I am not attempting to tell anyone who is right or wrong. I am just expressing my admiration of the content and passion that was provided by students during the class discussion.
After attending the forum referenced above, I would once again like to express my admiration for the in-class discussion I was able to witness. To say that I was disappointed by my experience at the forum would be disrespectful to the students, especially the students of the Smith College Jewish Community, as their passion, knowledge and commitment to a world existing beyond anti-Semitism, white supremacy and overall bigotry shone through with their actions and questions. However, the response I saw to these questions was where I found my disappointment. It is not uncommon that when a person in power is confronted with a controversial topic, they will do their best to avoid it, re-word the topic into something that shows themselves in a positive light or just simply answer a different question than the one that was asked. Unfortunately, I witnessed all three of these things at the panel. During the panel, many attempts at apologies were made with anti-Semitic actions being brushed off as nothing more that a “mistake.” This kind of behavior is unacceptable. While mistakes do happen, they do not involve acts of violence and verbal abuse.
Several times during the panel, there was discussion of the need to dispel of anti-Semitism all together and that doing this would be a long and arduous process. However, not a single panelist stepped up and took responsibility for helping in this process. To make it clear, I was not expecting the solution to global hatred to be solved in a two-hour panel but commitment to actively participating in aiding in developing solutions would have been nice. Overall, the experience was both uplifting and distressing. Seeing a panel of academics attempt to quell and crush student’s attempts to stand up for themselves and defend who they are and what they believe in was nauseating. I left the auditorium feeling sick to my stomach. However, I also left with an unmeasurable amount of respect for my peers for their perseverance. In spite of the disgusting attempts to silence voices, I witnessed fellow students remaining rational and level headed as they took on a panel, that was obviously not going to respect a word they said, with well thought out, well-worded and remarkably intelligent questions. With all of this in mind, the faith I have in my generation, the generation that is poised to take responsibility for the future, has been reinvigorated as I witnessed first hand, its dedication to creating a world where hatred and bigotry is demolished with indisputable support.
Georgianna Duke, 2020J