Op-ed: TCU Senate: Silence on racism and antisemitism speaks volumes

On May 14, 2021, members of Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine painted the Tufts cannon as part of a vigil honoring the lives of Palestinians who died in the two-week-long conflict referred to by Gazan militant groups as the “Sword of Jerusalem Battle,” and by the Israeli Defense Forces as “Operation Guardian of the Walls.” That same evening, the cannon was vandalized with crude language and images.

Response to the vandalism was swift. SJP released a statement on May 16 through its Facebook and Instagram accounts, and the Tufts Community Union Senate Executive Board released its own statement of condemnation the same day. Beyond a simple condemnation of the act, the six-person TCU Executive Board added a list of demands, calling for a response to the event from Tufts University administration in addition to other policy changes and actions from administration. While these demands have been criticized by some groups and individuals, the TCU Senate Executive Board’s moving away from symbolic objection and toward the promotion of actionable policy changes following incidents of discrimination is a step in the right direction.

However, this step forward is quickly being undermined by the TCU Senate’s unwillingness to respond to other incidents of bias. So far in the 202122 academic year, there have been three widely reported incidents of discrimination on campus: One incident of racism, the removal of Black Lives Matter posters, and two incidents of antisemitism, the removals of Mezuzahs from student residences. All of these have been followed by responses from the Tufts University administration. The TCU Senate Executive Board has remained silent for close to three weeks.

When University President Anthony Monaco released a statement responding to the May 14 cannon defacement on May 17, just three days after the incident and one day after calls from the TCU Senate to act, SJP quickly criticized the president’s statement. They said it caused “further harm to Palestinian students,” because, among other points, the statement “does not recognize [the cannon defacement] as the act of hate… that it is.” One shudders to imagine how much harm has come to the Tufts community now that, through its silence, the TCU Senate Executive Board has failed to recognize the acts of hate that have occurred so far this year.

The role of the TCU Senate, as described in the TCU Constitution, Article II, is to “Represent the needs and interests of the TCU.” It is within the interest, and certainly a need, for members of the Tufts community to be able to live their lives, go to class and participate in on-campus activities without the fear of discrimination over their race or religion. The TCU Senate has the responsibility to stand up for all portions of our community, a responsibility that, through its silence, the TCU Senate continues to shirk.

This silence comes even though both TCU President Amma Agyei and TCU Vice President Tim Leong led campaigns based on equity and justice. Agyei declared that she was running for president to “empower the student body and uplift underrepresented voices.” Leong characterized himself as “excited for students who have been marginalized by the Tufts’ actions to have this long-overdue opportunity to fight back. When the TCU Senate turns a blind eye to discrimination and bias on campus, these optimistic statements become little more than lofty soundbites.

The rise in incidents against all kinds of minority groups is troubling. In May, the rate of antisemitic hate crimes increased by 115% from the same time last year, and it remains close to the highest levels they have been at since the Anti-Defamation League began collecting data in 1979. The Black Lives Matter movement continues to fight for the eradication of “white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities,” recently condemning the blatantly racist and anti-Black brutalization of Haitians seeking asylum by members of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Anti-Arab sentiment continues to swell in the United States, while abroad Palestinians are suffering from “violence, displacement, and restricted access to livelihoods and essential services, such as water, healthcare, shelter and education,” as identified in a 2017 UN report.

The threat to these groups directly impacts the ability of students at Tufts to learn and be active members of our community. No one at Tufts, regardless of their identity, should have to live in fear. The TCU Senate needs to act. Its continued silence should alarm those among every marginalized community at Tufts: If the TCU Senate is willing to turn a blind eye to injustice toward one group, it can just as easily do the same to all.

Max Morningstar is a junior at Tufts University. Max can be reached at [email protected]