Op-ed: Erased voices in the backlash of the divestment resolution

After the resolution that called for Tufts to divest from Northrop Grumman, Elbit Systems, Hewlett-Packard and G4S passed in the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate body last Sunday, the campus has an undertone of tension stemming from the split(s) in how different groups view the conflict in Israel-Palestine. The dominant narrative, during and after the resolution hearing, centered around Jewish groups or individual students’ opinions on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), the Israeli state, the marginalization of Palestinians and whether or not the resolution should have been held the weekend before Passover.

Dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life Alan Solomont, the Board of Trustees and other administrative staff have condemned the timing of the resolution and the way it did not engage in ‘true’ dialogue and active citizenship. However, if the Tufts administration had looked around the room at the support that the resolution received from non-dominant identities – Asian, Black, brown, trans, queer bodies and international students – they would perhaps realize that much of the campus was very much engaged. While righteously bantering over what constitutes “dialogue” and “real active citizenship,” Tufts has once again ignored the connection that many marginalized groups have with instances of injustice. They have literally written out the symbolic stake that these voices have in this issue. We all know that generating a “productive atmosphere for discussion,” as Dean Solomont wrote in his op-ed, only holds true if this atmosphere is well within the confines of Tufts’ sanitized version of activism.

Many op-eds and statements by the administration and students talk about how this resolution was extremely near to Jewish students on campus, which I fully agree with. However, no one – not the administration nor the authors of the op-eds – talked about this issue in an intersectional light. Why was this particular resolution one that so many oppressed identities rallied behind, and why are their emotional labor, opinions and input toward this issue not included when the concept of “dialogue” comes up? Divesting from these four corporations that directly fund prison, surveillance, weapon and ID technology, profit off of global war, incarceration, military occupation and police violence, is an issue we can relate to all too well.

Though I can’t speak for all queer students, students of color and international students on this issue, I am committed to highlighting some of the voices whom I did speak to, who feel silenced by the rhetoric from both the anti-resolution voices on campus and from the administration. If we are going to get frowned upon for supporting divestment from four corporations that are actively violating human rights not only in Palestine but around the world, if we are going to be demonized and dismissed as “Social Justice Warriors” by questioning a nation-state whose policies oppress its minorities and if our views are going to be erased from the discussion altogether, then what right does Tufts have to use our bodies as “diversity” and our activism as “civic engagement” in their pamphlets, website, library walls and admissions blurbs?

Audre Lorde said that, “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not live single issue lives.” When I asked students from non-dominant identities on this campus why they were in support of the resolution, there was a personal as well as a political dimension to their responses. Starting with myself, a Hindu from India whose right-wing Hindu-nationalist government is using almost identical tactics that the Israeli Defense Force uses against Palestinians to suppress Kashmiris in India-occupied Kashmir, I see myself profoundly implicated in both these violences. Northrop Grumman has a significant presence in India, and my government buys arms from Israel.

Josephine, a senior who identifies as an Asian-American woman from Guahan (Guam), talked about how she grew up in a place which was stolen from the indigenous Chamorus (Chamorros) and is visibly occupied by the U.S. military. She says, “Because I am both complicit in the taking of indigenous land and have experienced the violence of occupation, I wholeheartedly support the passing of the resolution.”

One student said he sees parallels between U.S. interventionism (often referred to as neocolonialism) promoting religious and ethnic hate in his country and how the United States rhetoric reinforces asymmetrical conflict in Israel-Palestine by funding the Israeli government. The student also talked about how it is unacceptable for administrations to choose which human rights violations to ignore and which to ‘deem worthy’ of support.

Senior David Ferrandiz Vallejo and junior MJ Griego refer to how the resolution is a start in holding Israel, the U.S and other regimes around the world accountable for the violence that they enact, aid and support in many areas of the world.

Senior Jonathan Moore expressed that this issue is both personal and political in his statement: “I supported the resolution not because I am allegiant to the survival of this university but because I am allegiant to the survival of Palestinians, the survival of Africans in Israeli territory and all peoples dying under the many-tentacled violence of [a] capitalist empire.”

Though the Tufts administration has been criticizing multiple student perspectives supporting the resolution, TCU Senate for passing the resolution as well as Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace for authoring the resolution, it has not shown any effort to understand some of our voices and what our perception of the campus atmosphere after the passing of the resolution has been. The intersectional nature of the support for this resolution clearly demonstrates that we are working across lines of difference. Without meaning to be “too political,” Tufts has chosen a side in this debate and has demonized student activists while doing it. 

Senior Anissa Waterhouse pointed out that, “Every single day on this campus, people of color and other marginalized voices and bodies, must face a barrage of violence and trauma. The thing I find to be most concerning in the days following the divestment resolution is the amount of violence inflicted upon my friends who have shown support for the resolution. I have consoled friends through hateful emails, Facebook messages, profanities in comment sections of op-eds and outright threats. On this campus, groups that center marginalized voices and/or have a mission to combat domestic and global oppression are often labeled as extremist, disruptive and combative, while other groups rarely face serious repercussions.”

If the administration is troubled by the ‘cavalier attitude toward free speech,’ as Dean Solomont wrote, that those who support the resolution have allegedly been promoting, I ask the administration and trustees to look at themselves and the way they silence, dismiss and shut down arguments that they don’t like. I call out the contradictory nature of this university, which promotes itself as being a campus where minorities (“diverse students”) can exist and thrive but instead undermines the civic engagement that many students of color, low-income students and queer students are invested in. When these voices are actively telling the campus that they feel violated by the racist, classist, homophobic and transphobic atmosphere of Greek life, the university does not support us. When Tufts Labor Coalition works at all hours to highlight the dehumanizing treatment of janitors, construction and dining hall workers, many of whom are people of color and/or immigrants, Tufts looks the other way. When Black students and those who supported them were protesting the extremely low enrollment of Black students, they received so much resistance before the administration finally heard them out. Now, the campus and administration take their lack of dialogue further by actively condemning students who stood up in support of the resolution. The backlash from this resolution being passed is just another example of a complete disregard for the legitimate concerns of marginalized peoples on this campus and the administration’s complacency in funding human rights violations worldwide.

This op-ed incorporated input from Anissa Waterhouse, Anjali Nair, Cristina Vasquez-Muñiz, Jonathan Jacob Moore, MJ Griego, Made Bacchus, Josephine Ong, David Ferrandiz Vallejo, Mile Kristev and others.