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Guest Opinion

How colleges handle protests colors a high schooler’s view


Hundreds of students filed into the classroom and thousands logged in to the YouTube livestream to watch a turning point in Dartmouth College’s history. A collection of professors from the Jewish Studies program and the Middle-Eastern History department took their seats in the center of a university auditorium. These important figures had come to discuss the Israel-Hamas conflict and, more importantly, to listen.

Since October, Ivy League and other prestigious colleges all over the country have experienced on-campus conflicts not seen in generations. At Cornell, one professor called the Hamas attacks “exhilarating” and only apologized after outrage from the public. Muslim students at the University of Connecticut have received enough violent threats that they had to ask for protection. Meanwhile, at Harvard, 34 groups of students signed a letter that publicly blamed Israel for the Hamas attack, which resulted in the murder of over 1,400 Israeli citizens.

Columbia University has experienced chaos like no other, through numerous rallies and protests either promoting Palestine or supporting Israel. The turmoil has risen to the point that many pupils don’t feel safe.

Police are guarding Hillel, an on-campus center for Jewish culture.

The former president of the University of Pennsylvania, M. Elizabeth Magill, recently resigned after a congressional hearing with the presidents of Harvard and MIT about antisemitism on their campuses.

When asked the question, “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn’s rules or, code of conduct? Yes, or no?”, Magill declined to give a clear answer. When pressed, she finally responded that the situation calls for “a context-dependent decision.” Four days later, Magill resigned under pressure.

These same universities have noticed significant drops in applications and loss of funding.

At Harvard, early admission applications by high school seniors have dropped over 17% year over year, bringing the number to a four-year low. Harvard has lost the support of many donors, including billionaires Len Blavatnik and Bill Ackman.

Meanwhile, Dartmouth’s forums have given students a chance to air their grievances constructively, asking and answering heated questions in a thoughtful environment. Appearing on NPR, Middle-Eastern Studies Professor Tarek El-Ariss talked about the motive behind the forums.

“We want to understand, want to revisit the historical context, want to imagine a different future,” El-Ariss said. “And we don’t want to stop at just simply saying, this is the bad guy. This is the good guy.”

Owen Seiner, a Jewish senior, attended the forums.

“I think the focus on academics and the presence of professors in the discussions has helped to sort of reduce the intensity of a lot of students’ feelings on the issues, and sort of channeled them towards more productive approaches,” Seiner told MSNBC.

To date, Dartmouth has had no struggles with student or faculty conflict.

Growing up, I heard amazing things about the Ivy Leagues, as my mother has degrees from both Columbia and UPenn, while I frequently visit Princeton’s nearby campus. Up until now, I thought of them as institutions of advanced learning offering the best education in the world with faculty who devote their lives to the highest standards of learning.

But what does it say when the best and brightest fall short? It’s still my dream to attend a top university, but my impressions have changed based on how these institutions have handled the conflict. Shouldn’t we approach every situation calmly and with thoughtful dialogue? I’m only a high school freshman. Admittedly, I don’t know much. I certainly don’t know where I’ll go to college, or if they’ll even have me.

But if I’m lucky enough to choose, the recent events can’t help but influence my decision.

Finnegan Zackham is a freshman at New Hope-Solebury High School.

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