Guest Column: Why I cannot remain silent on Palestinian suffering

Erik Zorn, Guest Columnist

I’ve been debating whether or not it would be appropriate for me to write this for the past two weeks. I am conscious of what it means to speak out because I don’t want my voice to silence others. However, after seeing how our campus has handled the conversation over the NUDivest resolution, I feel socially responsible to speak up in solidarity with NUDivest, a voice that’s consistently misrepresented and silenced despite its clear efforts to expose human suffering.

I feel compelled to speak on this because I know how it feels to be silenced.

As a gay male, there is nothing I hate more than feeling like my voice has been taken away from me. I know what that misery feels like. Growing up in the Bible Belt in Roanoke, Virginia, I never felt comfortable sharing my sexuality. Every week at church I knew there was no way I could come out when we had read passages in Sunday school condemning homosexuality. The pastor who baptized me uses the pulpit to preach conversion therapy.

It wasn’t until I came to Northwestern and began sleeping in on Sundays instead of going to church that I became comfortable enough to come out to my closest friends. Yet, as I came out to more of my friends, I noticed that some people naturally made “gay” synonymous with “unprofessional” and “sassy.” Although I had learned to be more open about my sexuality in my (limited) personal life, I could never express it in my work in Associated Student Government as Executive Vice President for fear of being treated differently, and so I remained silent and continued to clarify that, “No, Julia and I are not dating.” I felt in my expectations to be a truly representative student, I had to ignore my own experiences in application to the student body.

I also felt like I couldn’t speak out about anything political either as I couldn’t be truly representative of student interests if I took a side. When Darren Wilson was not indicted, I was disappointed in myself for not standing in solidarity with my friends who were affected. Why didn’t I speak out? There was controversy over whether we should be saying #alllivesmatter or #blacklivesmatter, and “the facts were ambiguous” about the case. I put on a veil of impartiality because I had forgotten that I was elected for my values along with my ability to be a representative of the student body.

My experience and struggle with sharing my sexuality relates to NUDivest and its cause because none of us live single-issue lives. There are several similarities between my experiences and those of NUDivest. The organizers of NUDivest standing up against human rights violations are incredibly brave for going against an institution that doesn’t support them, and instead actively marginalizes them through the status quo. Those that oppose NUDivest often silence them by saying they are simply being angry or misrepresentative of their motives by creating fear that, if we support BDS, we’ll begin rolling down the slippery slope to moral catastrophe. NU’s investment in companies complicit in human rights violations makes many students feel unsupported, as I felt similarly when swarms of people in Roanoke flooded Chick-fil-A restaurants because of their public anti-LGBT views in 2012. Oppression uses the same argument over and over again, and we have to recognize it each time the status quo is challenged.

There is a bitter irony when those against divestment suddenly feel uncomfortable that this issue has been brought to light, while those who are continually marginalized have felt discomfort from the start. Yes, it is uncomfortable to change the status quo, but through this lack of comfort we can grow to support those who the status quo doesn’t support. We should all take time and effort to understand how we may be marginalized at one time, and complicit in the marginalization of others at another time.

I cannot in good conscience seek support for my own struggles while simultaneously denying others who are actively oppressed. Not supporting NUDivest is the same as denying my own experience, and I refuse to be silenced anymore.

What are the less controversial issues that you support? Many students don’t think twice about enacting initiatives to support sexual assault survivors or to advocate for gender equality and higher education affordability. We don’t mind protesting to change the status quo in these cases, and what’s the difference in this situation?

Divestment has worked in the past to correct problematic institutions, and I believe it has potential to work here as well. The action called for in NUDivest’s resolution does not seek to punish Israel or even imply the dissolution of its state (if it was, I would be writing something completely different). Rather, it calls for the immediate end of an oppression resulting from settlements in Palestine so that Palestinians might have an equal voice in creating a peaceful solution. If we are comfortable standing up against other types of oppression, we shouldn’t let this be the exception.

Erik Zorn is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].