Campus diversity leaders oppose official Northwestern stance on ASA boycott

Ally Mutnick, Campus Editor

Students from several of Northwestern’s multicultural groups are calling on University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Dan Linzer to clarify a statement made in December rejecting the American Studies Association’s call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. 

Eighteen students from the Muslim-cultural Student Association, Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights, Students for Justice in Palestine and other groups released an open letter Dec. 23 opposing the University’s statement on human rights grounds and asking Schapiro and Linzer to make clear their stance is not representative of the entire university.

SESP sophomore Hazim Abdullah drafted the letter after reading Schapiro’s and Linzer’s announcement, emailed to the NU community Dec. 20. The statement said the University rejected the boycott and will continue its relationships and partnerships with Israeli academic institutions.

“We want people to know that the president and the provost don’t speak for us,” Abdullah said. “There are people who have almost been silenced by the official University position.”

In the open letter, the students said they believe the boycott brings to light human rights violations surrounding Israel’s occupation in the Palestinian territories. The students wrote in the letter that Israeli universities cooperate with the Israeli military and government and are thus responsible for furthering the state’s treatment of Palestinian people.

University spokesman Al Cubbage declined to comment on the letter.

In the statement, Schapiro and Linzer wrote the boycott goes against the values of academic freedom and scholarship.

“Northwestern University faculty and students should have the ability to pursue academic collaborations with their colleagues at institutions around the world, including Israel,” they wrote.

The call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions was made by Palestinian civil society. The American Studies Association National Council, including NU African-American and performance studies Prof. E. Patrick Johnson, unanimously voted to follow that call. About two-thirds of the 1,252 association members who voted were in favor of a boycott. 

NU is not the only university to oppose the resolution. Multiple universities have cut ties with the association in protest, including Indiana University, Brandeis University and Kenyon College.

Serene Darwish, an Associated Student Government senator for McSA, also signed the letter. She said she was shocked the president and provost issued the statement via email over Winter Break without any consultation with students or faculty.

Darwish, a Weinberg junior, likened the current boycott to those of South Africa during the end of the apartheid era. She said she feels hopeful because some universities initially opposed boycotts in South Africa before later supporting them, attributing the shifting views to grassroots activism.

Signers of the letter plan to meet soon to organize a forum where interested members of the NU community can voice their concerns on the issue.

“We need to have this discussion on campus,” Darwish said. “It shouldn’t be just shoved aside. It was kind of a slap in the face to receive that email.”

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