Friday, February 11, 2011

President of Hampshire College Issues Statement Criticizing Disruption of Talk by IDF Soldier

As noted in recent posts, Hampshire College Students for Justice in Palestine and associated outside protesters disrupted a talk by a reserve soldier of the Israel Defense Forces last week.

The next morning, interim President Marlene Fried issued the following statement.  She was not present at the event and could therefore speak on the basis of only second-hand reports.  Nonetheless, it was unusual that a statement was issued at all, and so soon, especially coming, as it did, on the heels of her sharp recent condemnation of harassment and other violations of community norms arising from tensions over the Arab-Israeli conflict:

4 February 2011

Dear Hampshire College community,

One of my pledges to you as your interim president is to keep you informed about events and concerns on campus that matter to us as a community. In that spirit, I write to speak to you about two matters.

First, I want to share details, as I understand them based on reports from those in attendance, of an incident surrounding a speaker on campus last night and the request that individuals who would not permit him to be heard leave the lecture hall so that others who wished to hear might do so.

The speaker was invited to campus by a student group, as is common practice at Hampshire. While the administration neither endorsed nor invited him, it has been my position throughout my 25 years at Hampshire that student groups should be able to invite their own speakers to campus, so long as the speaker's views are expressed peacefully. It is important for students to have opportunities to think through issues and be educated about them.

A large audience, drawn both from the Hampshire campus and the surrounding area, and holding diverse views, attended the talk, which was entitled "Reflections of a Front-line IDF Soldier." Knowing that the audience held passionate and differing views about the topic, a representative of the dean of students' office asked in advance that everyone allow the speaker to give his views, with time to be provided for a question-and-answer session afterward. That request was made again at several points during the talk. Individuals who continued to make it impossible to hear the speaker were asked to leave so that others might hear him. They did so quietly with the exception of one individual who continued to blow a whistle until a public safety officer in attendance told him that he would have to leave. No one was arrested. No charges were filed. The officer walked to the door of the room with the individual as he left the lecture hall.

The second topic I want to address is a letter posted to the campus announcements this morning on behalf of SJP. I want to thank the students for their thoughtful letter, and to assure the community that I had an opportunity to read and respond before the letter was distributed on campus. I also want to be very clear that I do not hold the positions that the letter attributes to me.

As I stated in my earlier response directly to the letter's writers, I would appreciate an opportunity to meet with SJP and/or participate in a more public discussion where we would each be able to clarify our position. I would hope this would also further the ability of others on campus to have open dialogue and discussion on these issues.

Marlene Gerber Fried

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