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On Jan. 28, 2016, I was kicked out of a Boston University building. I was one of several BU students removed from the “All Students, All Israel Think Tank” event, which was hosted by the Florence and Chafetz Hillel House at Boston University and Israel Campus Roundtable and advertised as open to all students. After merely arriving and sitting at the event, we were immediately approached by an armed Boston University police officer who informed us that BU Hillel organizers told her that we were not part of an undefined “inner circle,” that we were not welcome at the event and that we had to leave. Our group was almost entirely comprised of students of Middle Eastern, South Asian and East Asian origins, and I was the only Jewish student at the event with views that are critical of Israel. In addition, we are all associated with Palestinian human rights advocacy.
As soon as we were approached, we began video recording our exchange with the armed officers and an event organizer. After we continued to press for answers, we were approached by one of the event organizers who told us that we were being removed from the event because the organizers deemed all of us as disruptive prior to the event start.
Another BU student, Ibraheem, arrived later and was immediately approached by a police officer who informed him that he also would not be allowed to attend the event and that he was considered disruptive. RSVPs were not required for the event, but Ibraheem was still asked to leave despite the fact that he registered ahead of time. The officer was grouping us all together and said that we were collectively not welcome. The officer then asserted that we would be subject to arrest on the basis of “trespassing … from [a] lawful perspective,” if we did not leave. Soon after, we were approached by Assistant Dean of Students John Battaglino, who also told us that Hillel had the right to ask us to leave.
It is clear to us that our expulsion from the event was due to discrimination against both our backgrounds and our viewpoints. The message that BU Hillel sent to us that day could not be more clear: Despite its claim that Hillel is inclusive, it does not welcome all students. BU Hillel is a BU-owned building with a public BU dining hall and should be held to the same standards as any other facility on campus, namely that BU events should be open to all students. Instead, we were pushed out and prohibited from attending an event advertised as open to the public on BU’s campus. After trying to clarify with Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore, he confirmed, “As long as Hillel is holding or sponsoring a program that is open to the campus community or the public, you may enter Hillel and participate in such programs.”
We have made repeated attempts to engage with the university and resolve this matter, but Hillel and our administration have refused to apologize. Hillel’s response to the video has been to deflect criticism by focusing on the anger expressed by one individual following our expulsion from the event. They have yet to act with accountability or admit that it was inappropriate to collectively remove us. The administration has also disappointed us by avoiding accountability and not holding Hillel to the university’s standards. The only response that I received from the administration was from Dean Elmore, who mentioned that he would “think about” making a public statement affirming that what transpired was wrong. We have not received an update since.
The day I was accused of trespassing on my own campus grounds, I had to confront the reality that in the eyes of BU Hillel and BU’s administration, I do not belong here. The traumatizing incident at Hillel was a literal manifestation of what many students critical of Israel and students of color already feel. What was more sobering was the harsh reality of being a Jewish woman kicked out of an organization and a space that is supposed to advocate for the needs of Jewish students on campus. Unfortunately, according to a recent report by Jewish Voice for Peace, I am just one of many Jewish students around the country that have been ostracized from their own communities because of their political views on Israel and Palestine.
Coming to BU as a Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar in the fall of 2012, I was inspired by Dr. King’s time at BU and believed this university would offer me a place to carry out his teachings of radical social justice. Instead, where I expected to find support for social justice and free and open debate, I encountered hostility and suppression. The truth is, when people in positions of power such as university administrators and Hillel leaders and staff refuse to take a stance on instances of discrimination, silencing and intimidation, the most vulnerable students are the ones who end up bearing the price. It is time for our administrators and the BU Hillel staff to begin standing up for students and to recognize that discrimination is not up for debate.
Marlo Kalb, [email protected]