Penn Dialogue Forum | Confronting Penn’s unhealthy discourse
Guest Column | Creating a permanent space for dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
March 19, 2012, 11:08 pm · Updated March 20, 2012, 11:31 pm·
Last month, a group of four Penn students joined delegations from fellow Ivy League schools at the first annual Ivy League Leadership Colloquium on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict at Brown University.
We gathered to honor the memory of Avi Schaefer, a former Brown student who was tragically killed at the hands of a drunk driver. Before his death, Avi had dedicated himself to improving the polarized campus atmosphere surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Brown.
Although the 29 conference attendees included Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, Quakers and Tigers, each of us shared the sentiment that our respective campuses face a similar problem and together committed ourselves to taking action.
The discourse at Penn concerning this conflict is too often filled with insolence, disregard for nuance and even hateful rhetoric — much of it, in recent months, occurring on these very pages.
Frequently, student organizations do not adequately consider how to frame events, programs and advocacy campaigns in order to encourage healthy conversations. At times, individuals on Penn’s campus have felt disrespected, and even personally threatened, as a consequence of their political opinions. The status quo is simply unacceptable.
College campuses, with their diverse makeup and commitment to academic sincerity, serve as a unique testing ground for novel approaches to this conflict that can avoid the normative characterization of the “other” and instead promote collaboration and healthy communication. As students, we believe it is time to take advantage of this opportunity and to truly commit to respecting our fellow members of this academic community.
We believe it is time to create an environment where we can address these difficult topics by fostering productive conversations predicated on mutual respect, a willingness to listen to conflicting narratives and an antipathy to hateful, incendiary rhetoric.
We recognize the role of activism on our campus, but believe it should more effectively pave the way for meaningful dialogue. We do not advocate for dialogue where students pretend to agree, but rather for an exchange of narratives and personal opinions that enables a deeper understanding of this conflict’s complexities.
We, alongside other students, are committed to changing the discourse at Penn. The first step we are taking is the creation of a new group called Penn Dialogue Forum, dedicated to creating a permanent space on campus where students can engage in constructive dialogue.
PDF aims to fill this role through a variety of means, which include organizing discussion forums immediately following events on campus relating to Israel and Palestine as well as advancing dialogue through independent programming. An upcoming PDF event, “Dialogue Chats,” is scheduled for March 29 and 30. Dialogue Chats will consist of small groups of students from different backgrounds engaging in a discussion of the larger conflict and how we address these difficult issues on our campus.
Through such efforts, Penn Dialogue Forum aims to serve as a mediating group, with the sole purpose of improving our campus environment.
We know that dialogue alone will not reform our campus. However, the creation of this additional safe space will provide an alternative to the status quo. The problem, of course, involves the entire Penn community, and any solution correspondingly depends upon all of us. It is time that we move from complacency to action. This is our first step, and we ask you to join us in action.
Besan Abu-Joudeh, Humna Bhojani, Cobi Blumenfeld-Gantz and Elie Peltz are four of the co-founders of Penn Dialogue Forum. Abu-Joudeh and Blumenfeld-Gantz are College and Wharton seniors. Bhojani is a College junior and Peltz, a ‘DP’ contributing photographer, is a College sophomore. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.