BSA Co-Director Jaya Hinton asked Annenberg Media to publish the organization’s response to President Folt’s letter defending former USG Vice President Rose Ritch. BSA’s statement can also be read here.
Last week, on August 6th, President Folt released an email in reference to Rose Ritch, the former Vice President of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), stepping down from her position. It referenced instances of anti-Zionism and alleged instances of anti-Semitism and bullying Rose faced for her Jewish identity. It did not, however, provide any context as to why Rose’s impeachment was actually called for.
We all know that with social media, movements develop a life and an identity of their own. We do not condone bullying or harassment of anyone based on their identities, beliefs, or for any other reason. We also know, however, as an organization that supported the impeachment of Truman and Rose, that the reasons for their impeachment were not related to their identities or beliefs, but to racist microaggressions and the violence and complicity in their silence. Not speaking up about the anti-Black racism of Truman’s words, not ensuring their cabinet was, at the very least, representative of the USC community as a whole, and tokenizing Black students during their campaign was the reason for the call for their impeachment. The manipulation of that context, the victimization of Truman, and the martyring of Rose that followed took away from our movement and centered whiteness amidst it all. This is anti-Black. This vivid manifestation of white privilege and blatant disregard for Black students and Black voices became very apparent in the treatment of Abeer Tijani.
Abeer has received threats, has been doxxed, and has been discriminated against since the beginning of her impeachment initiative. Abeer, who has become a strong and inspirational voice in the Black community, did not receive the same—or any—protection, support, or “messages to the community” delivered directly by our President or any other senior member of the administration at USC. As a Black Muslim woman at this University, Abeer is already subjected to harassment and gender, religious and racial discrimination, which was only exacerbated by President Folt’s negligence.
We are disappointed that this level of specificity, protection, and personal action from University leadership has not happened for Palestinians, Black students, and other marginalized students at the University who are facing continued discrimination and harassment. Moreover, it is very telling of the University’s values and care (or lack thereof) for their marginalized students in that they have not extended these same protections for Abeer Tijani and they persist in leaving other Black students unprotected as well.
Furthermore, we must acknowledge that we are in an academic environment where it is acceptable to have differing opinions; respectful discussion surrounding these topics should be encouraged. What is unacceptable is President Folt’s assumption that Zionism is an indistinguishable ideology from Judaism and therefore should fall under a protective class. In her statement, President Folt denounced anti-Zionism by conflating it with anti-Semitism. In doing so, President Folt has further marginalized a substantial amount of students that she also has the duty to serve. It has long been a Zionist talking point to meld these two ideologies in order to hedge any criticisms of the inherently colonial and harmful manifestations of Zionism that continue to harm Palestinians worldwide. Zionism is a political ideology not held by all Jewish people. She has permitted the alienation and disenfranchisement of many Jewish students on campus that do not agree with Zionism. By giving in to a political agenda and conflating the two identities, President Folt negates the autonomy of Jewish students to politically identify as they please.
Moreover, many define Zionism as the belief in the right of Jewish self-determination—this in itself does not present an issue and should be advocated for. However, both the historical and ongoing manifestations of Zionism show that it is predicated on the exclusion of Black Jewish people. Additionally, it relies on the genocide and displacement of Palestinians through the gross proliferation of human rights violations—that amount to war crimes—in favor of an authoritarian ethno-state. For far too long on USC’s campus, Palestinian students have not been afforded the luxury and privilege to study in a place where they feel welcomed, as evidenced by President Folt’s and the University’s refusal to display the Palestinian flag at the Center for International and Public Affairs (formerly known as VKC). Folt’s statement has done nothing but further alienate a marginalized population of Trojans in a space where they should feel welcomed and appreciated. In treating Zionism as a protected class, President Folt and USC negate the experiences and feelings of Jewish and Palestinian students at USC that do not agree with it. By extension, they disgustingly place the worth of Palestinian lives beneath that of a political ideology.
President Folt proceeded to institute a campaign, Stronger Than Hate, claiming to combat hate on campus while continuing to ignore the aggression that our sister Abeer has become a target of. Rather than giving the full context of the situation, the one-sidedness of this statement has put a member of our community in danger and dissuaded students from being vocal about the injustices we see. We reiterate that BSA is committed to denouncing hate and systemic marginalization in all its forms. However, the exclusion of certain demographics from the Stronger Than Hate campaign, and the inclusion of historically anti-Black organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), does not achieve this goal and further alienates students at USC.
We hope that the senior administration and this University as a collective take our words into consideration, and, moving forward, are more conscious of how their negligence for Palestinians, anti-Zionist Jewish persons, and Black students is detrimental to the learning and social environment at USC. This is the only way we can truly be stronger than hate.