Rossen: Responding to SGA Commentary of “Does Our University Truly Respect Jewish Profs?”

Rowan students join in solidarity of the Jewish Community after the shooting in Pittsburgh in October 2018. - File Photo / Miguel Martinez

Editor’s note: This article has been updated since it was first posted online to more accurately reflect the views and sentiments of its author.

Last week I got one of the biggest opportunities of my college career. For the first time, in all my years at Rowan, I had access to an elevated platform with which to speak my truth and speak truth for my friends in the Jewish community. That was huge.

As great as it was, I never had any doubts that there would be some people who disliked the truth I was speaking. I would make some enemies. I never wanted that, but I wasn’t going to let that possibility scare me into silence.

I had to speak up, because the truth of what myself and my peers had experienced deserved to be out there. 

I understand why my last article quickly became mired in controversy. Difficult conversations are, after all, just that: difficult. But these difficult conversations are also necessary because we would not be able to become better without having them. That’s part of the reason why I chose to use this platform to speak my truth.

However, there are certain things I consider to be worth addressing. In a public response to the release of my article, Rowan’s Student Government Association (SGA) seemed to misinterpret parts of my article as misinformation and misrepresented the issue of scheduling a senate meeting during Rosh Hashanah in September 2019 as one of miscommunication. 

I want to preface this by saying I get why this is such a difficult topic, and why it can’t be easy for SGA to accept and acknowledge the fact that their past administrations had been made aware of the issue in question over a year before any meaningful reform was made, but that’s the cold, hard truth. I don’t want there to be any confusion or uncertainty about what happened, so I think it best that I reiterate a few points in lengthier, more explicit, detail.

First, in September 2018, SGA scheduled its Organization Fair during Yom Kippur. In response, Rowan Hillel spearheaded an effort to get an amendment passed that would restrict major events from being held on major holidays from all religions. That amendment never saw the light of day, as I mentioned in my first article.

Second, one year later, in September 2019, I emailed SGA to inform them that they had scheduled a senate meeting during Rosh Hashanah. In the following month, October 2019, SGA finally passed legislation to an effect similar to, but not as strong as, what Hillel had proposed over a year prior to that point.

In other words, SGA was correct to point out that they had passed legislation in October 2019 that would, in theory, prevent students from being penalized for missing events on religious holidays, and I am sincerely thankful for that step forward, particularly to AVP Jason Brooks for his instrumental role in making that change happen.

However, it was wrong to suggest that misinformation was being spread. While I acknowledge that it’s easy to see how my saying that our attempt to get that singular piece of legislation passed in 2018 not coming to fruition could have been misconstrued into a claim that no legislation regarding this issue was ever passed at all, although I regret not wording it in a way that made the distinction more unmistakable, this was an unfortunate misrepresentation of my argument. 

I cannot go back on the essence of what I said in good conscience, but I think it’s worth taking the time here to also remark on all the good things that have happened since October 2019.

First, I’m thankful to the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, who consistently stand for the values our world so sorely needs more of. I’m also thankful for everything SGA has done to work on becoming better in the past 11 months since these incidents in question occurred. Despite all the work that remains to be done, there is no doubt in my mind that the SGA we have right now is more accepting of its diverse student body than it was a year ago, and much more so than the year before that.

This past January, of 2020, I emailed SGA President Arielle Gedeon to ask if she would be willing to hold a moment of silence to recognize International Holocaust Remembrance Day during a senate meeting. She agreed. As a descendant of Holocaust Survivors, that alone meant a lot, to me and to my grandmother. 

I am hopeful that the 2020 SGA administration will see the wisdom in continuing to improve on the good work they’ve been doing so far by making a binding commitment to no longer hold major events or mandatory meetings of any kind on days of great religious significance. This is a much-needed change. This has the potential to be the first year where students from minority religions never have to feel left out because this event they wanted to go to, or needed to go to, was scheduled during a major holiday that they observe. This also has the potential to be the first year that students of minority religions are empowered by the community around them to speak up when their professor attempts to mark them absent for missing class due to religious obligations. That would be a beautiful dream come true, and making that dream a reality is so important.

I made the decision to write this follow-up not just to set the record straight with regard to everything that’s happened over the years, and not just to continue advocating for the change we so desperately need, but also because I want to fight for the belief that no student should ever feel discouraged from speaking their truth, no matter how inconvenient that truth is.

Truth is important. Truth is everything. Listening to and hearing our peers as they speak their truth is an important part of making our campus, and indeed the world, a better place, or, as we say in Judaism, Tikkun Olam.

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