On Sept. 8, The Whit published an article by Multimedia Editor Alexander Rossen in which he detailed several examples of antisemitism he has experienced at Rowan.
The article, which is part of a larger series that The Whit plans to publish about different student religious experiences, includes anecdotes about Student Government Association-sponsored events and meetings being held on important Jewish holidays.
While SGA could have easily chosen to issue an apology while clarifying that the policy has been changed, they instead chose to ignore the very valid concerns of Rowan’s Jewish population in a tweet.
The following is a statement from the Student Government Association. Please advise. pic.twitter.com/ng8ZMU4nZJ— Rowan SGA (@RowanSGA) September 9, 2020
If you haven’t read his article, Rossen describes how, in 2018, the Fall Organization Fair was rained out and rescheduled on Yom Kippur, among the holiest of Jewish holidays. “When we asked SGA to reschedule,” he wrote, “we were told they weren’t the ones making the dates so there was nothing that could be done to change it…We also proposed that they amend SGA policy to prevent SGA from holding any major events on holidays of major religious significance, but unfortunately neither of those suggestions came to fruition.”
He then writes that, in 2019, an SGA senate meeting was held on Rosh Hashanah — and it took him explaining the issue for SGA to allow him not to attend without causing penalties for his organization.
“Although I’m thankful that I was allowed to miss the meeting without incurring any penalties once I informed them of the issue, it’s a shame it happened in the first place,” he wrote.
This is all that the article says about SGA.
To be clear, there is no issue with SGA clarifying that steps have since been taken to mitigate these effects. In fact, it would be useful and optimistic to note that SGA has since learned and done better. There is also no issue with a fair critique or rebuttal if the events described in Rossen’s article were really untrue or non-factual; The Whit has published Letters to the Editor from members of SGA in the past, and would still gladly do so.
There would have been no problem if SGA had simply acknowledged the past injury and detailed the steps taken to ensure religious equity.
Instead, SGA’s statement labeled Rossen’s experience as “misinformation” – a lie. The policy changes described were implemented beginning in October 2019, only after every example of discrimination Rossen described. This policy change also didn’t affirmatively affect whether events were scheduled on Jewish or other minority religious holidays as Rossen had suggested — just that students couldn’t be penalized for not attending, and that SGA would do “all due diligence” to prevent conflicts.
So, which part of the article was “misinformation”? Was it that SGA members simply didn’t like reading an unflattering anecdote about their institution? Does that justify spreading the misinformation that The Whit was spreading misinformation?
Moreover, SGA’s statement was (probably unintentionally) dismissive. It doesn’t once address any of Rossen’s experiences or the harm that Jewish Profs have experienced up until October 2019 — a long time in Rowan’s nearly 100-year history. Instead, the statement would have you think that none of these things happened or that they don’t matter, because they stopped perpetuating that same harm…less than a year ago.
It only discusses actions that would cast SGA in a flattering light, and in doing so, publicly dismisses SGA’s prior negligence causing harm to Jews. Indeed, SGA spent a 2-page statement mostly expounding on how many steps they have taken to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) of Jewish students without ever once mentioning the words “Jewish” or “antisemitism.”
Most offensive is that SGA labeled the public discussion of these inequities as “misinformation.” For Jews, having our experiences of antisemitism denied by structures of power, as SGA is a structure of power, is not new. It creates an environment ripe for antisemitic historical revisionism. For an SGA now dedicating so much effort to DEI projects, they should know better than to engage in discourse that minimizes the trauma and harm caused to Jews, especially since their institution perpetrated it.
I believe that SGA did not intend to offend or dismiss Jewish students. However, I also believe that good intentions do not make up for harmful impacts.
In Judiasm, we have a concept called “tikkun olam,” which translates to “repair the world.” Tikkun olam is largely interpreted as advocating for restorative justice: not simply to stop doing harmful things, but to make real material amends for having done harm in the past.
It seems that SGA’s DEI department has taken the first steps toward tikkun olam; but, offended by Rossen’s lack of reverence to their simply no longer perpetrating abuse, has gone for public attack. That’s not tikkun olam. That’s being retaliatory and acting only out of interest for their own public image — not out of any concern for religious minority students.
This could have been an opportunity for SGA to learn and grow. Being transparent about the past is a great way to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes twice. Hearing from people you’ve wronged is a chance to address the wrongs and perform restorative justice.
Moving forward, I hope that SGA will practice tikkun olam.
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