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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Marlboro Institute minors to host virtual event on Gaza on March 27

Yongze Wang
The Marlboro Institute for Liberal and Interdisciplinary Studies

Following months of discussion and preparation, the Marlboro Institute will host a Zoom event about Gaza on March 27 from 4 to 6 p.m. featuring members of the Palestinian Feminist Collective (PFC), a body of Arab and Palestinian feminist activists dedicated to Palestinian social and political liberation efforts.

The online event, titled “Gaza from a Palestinian Feminist Perspective,” is open to Emerson community members only. It is sponsored by women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, global and postcolonial studies, and peace and social justice, minors belonging to the Marlboro Institute. It comes after a group of faculty members began discussing the idea of an educational event in the fall following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the ensuing Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The speakers, Mjriam Abu Samra (University of California Davis) and Randa Tawil (Texas Christian University), will provide deep historical and sociopolitical context of the situation in Gaza and will discuss reproductive justice issues in the current moment in the first hour of the event. Following the speakers, there will be a Q&A session where attendees can submit questions. (The speakers did not respond to the Beacon’s request for comment in time for the publication of this article).

Palestinian feminist perspectives have been absent from mainstream U.S. public discourse, which made it important for the faculty organizers to address that significant omission, said associate professor Nelli Sargsyan, who is a feminist anthropologist. All aspects of social life and social reproduction in Gaza—including people, educational institutions, hospitals, and grocery stores, have been destroyed, she added. 

“As coordinators of minors that investigate large-scale processes and structures distributing life and death unequally, as well as justice movements and struggles, it is important for us to center this perspective and talk about life and the value of life and the devastating effect of destroying life and its social reproduction,” said Sargsyan, who coordinates the women’s gender and sexuality studies minor.

 The webinar aims to view the conflict through a decolonial and anti-colonial perspective, and Sargsyan hopes the event will emphasize equality and the value of all life within the event. 

“As an abolitionist, anti-colonial feminist, for me, every life is precious,” Sargsyan said. “We’re deeply invested in life-affirming practices and the preciousness of all life.”

In the U.S. and most of the Western world, public and media discourse have been saturated with the Israeli perspective, which oftentimes leads to Palestinian perspectives being absent or dehumanized, said associate professor of sociology and coordinator of the global and postcolonial studies and the peace and social justice minors Yasser Munif.

“This event is about humanizing Palestinians, showing that they’re human, that their lives are being destroyed, that there is a society, that there is erasure of history and voices,” said Munif, who teaches courses on social movements, gender and sexuality, race, colonization and post colonial theory.

Every conflict has a gender-specific perspective, he added. Munif said the collective will center those voices and struggles and the violence being done to children, women and men.

“What the event is going to discuss is really central to any understanding of feminism,” Munif said. “It complexifies the question of feminism. Oftentimes, students come to some of my classes thinking that feminism is in the singular, when it is always in plural. There are always multiple feminisms and what is happening right now in Palestine and Israel shows the weaknesses of liberal and colonial feminisms and the strength of Black and postcolonial feminisms. The former supports the genocidal war while the latter opposes it.”

While the event aims to center Palestinian voices, the organizers emphasized that it is not an attempt to silence Israeli or Jewish voices. It aims to offer the Palestinian feminist perspective to the Emerson community.

“It’s very unfair to present the Palestinian movement as, by definition, anti-semitic,” Munif said. “On the contrary, the Palestinian movement has done a lot of work and reflection, and has expelled anti-semitic voices. There is zero tolerance for anti-Semitism in the Palestinian movement and this is why it is allied with Jewish Voices for Peace and other Jewish groups.”

Sargsyan hopes the event will instill a deeper understanding of wording and phrases with students. She said media rhetoric has popularized divisive phrases with multiple interpretations, causing misunderstanding and turmoil.

“I’m deeply invested in a deeper understanding of phrases because I’m also a linguistic anthropologist, so I know the world that words, phrases, and language can create and can dismantle,” Sargsyan said. 

The event is being held during the same week as the college’s webinar on March 25, titled “Reclaiming Nuance: Polarization & Framing Post Oct. 7 – A Conversational Approach.” 

“In the fall, the College committed to holding an educational program that brings people together around the Middle East conflict and the communication challenges that have resulted…” college spokesperson Michelle Gaseau said in an email statement to the Beacon. “Other groups on campus also have the right to plan events or programs as they have done previously. In this case, several Marlboro Institute faculty, with support from the Marlboro Institute, have planned a specific event for March 27, rescheduled from December 2023.”

According to a community-wide email from the college, the event aims to “create space for difficult conversations and community engagement.” The event, however, will not discuss the history of the conflict. 

“Instead, it is about what makes it so challenging to productively discuss this issue, including directly addressing common points of tension,” the email said.

The event aims to “foster empathy” and awareness of the ways the aftermath of Oct. 7 is affecting members of the Emerson community while also “providing a greater understanding of what framing and polarization are and how they affect us as people and communities, especially in relation to Israel and Palestine.”

In April, the college will host additional small-group discussions for Emersonians to cultivate meaningful dialogue with one another on this “highly complex topic, which involves divergent perceptions, experiences, and histories,” the email said.

Prior to the March 25 event, Emerson’s Social Justice Collaborative, Campus Life, and the Center for Spiritual Life held multiple discussion-based gatherings for Jewish and Muslim students throughout late January and early February. The March 25 webinar will be the first college-led event discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict on the community-wide level. 

“The only event that is organized by the offices of the President, Provost, and Equity and Social Justice focuses on how to think and speak about difficult things, which I think is important—how to speak or understand nuanced lived experiences and perspectives,” Sargsyan said. “It is important to reflect on how to speak and how not to fall into binary oppositions and it is important to understand power differentials, power inequities.”

However, as people are reflecting on these topics, it’s important to talk about the topic that is difficult to talk about, Sargysan added. 

“If you’re just having a webinar on how to talk and think, but not [on] the content [about] which you need to think reflexively and carefully, for me, it’s insufficient…” Sargsyan said.  “You want to understand the accumulated histories, the conditions that contributed to unequal distribution of life and death. Speaking about how to speak about difficult issues, without discussing the matter (in this case, the history of Palestine/Israel) that needs a nuanced approach, is insufficient.” 

The PFC event was originally planned to occur before the college’s winter break on Dec. 14 but was postponed due to the limited availability of PFC speakers, who were “stretched thin” at the time, according to previous Beacon reporting. 

When faculty organizers initially proposed an educational event in the fall, college administrators requested that the teach-in be delayed until the spring semester and held as a series with other events that are “more balanced,” according to a message to the faculty organizers from President Jay Bernhardt and Provost Jan Roberts-Breslin obtained by the Beacon.

At the time, the college said that if the faculty members proceeded with the teach-in on Dec. 14, it could not be held within Emerson spaces or would not be funded, promoted, or recognized as an official college event.  

In response, faculty organizers sent a letter to the administration, which was signed by 19 faculty members—most of whom are in the Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts & Interdisciplinary Studies—that reemphasized the purpose of the teach-in and claimed that the college’s response undermines the faculty’s efforts to raise issues of social injustice. The college then changed its stance to allow faculty organizers to use campus spaces or college webinar access to conduct an unaffiliated teach-in if they were to hold it on Dec. 14. The March 27 event, however, cannot be labeled as a teach-in since it is not being organized by college officials, the faculty organizers said.

Faculty organizers interviewed by the Beacon said they were “disappointed” with the way the college has managed discussions about the conflict since Oct. 7. Munif said it may be symptomatic of small colleges, who may not have the expertise on how to deal with crisis situations, and therefore, they adopt the politics of silence by preventing discussion. 

“This is the first event that the college is organizing… that is open to all that is not about therapy or small focus group discussions,” Munif said. “…I think it’s disappointing the college did not play a proactive role in organizing events about Gaza. It’s a failure. I think we should have been much better at creating spaces where such discussions could happen.” 

In November, as the implications of the war intensified, the group of faculty members convened, including Sargsyan, Munif, and Nigel Gibson, and decided that a discussion must take place, Gibson said. 

“When we got together in November, we felt that there had to be a discussion on Palestine at Emerson,” said Gibson, who is a professor and expert in Africana thought, postcolonialism, and African Studies. “We’re now talking about at least 30,000 deaths, so we must talk about it.”

Munif said he believed the college took too many precautions, which led to outside discussions to occur. Because most of the discussions were not managed or administered by the college or faculty, some were “not necessarily the healthiest,” he added.

The organizers hope that Wednesday’s event will provide a lens to see what Palestinians have experienced while serving as the start of open and in-depth discussions.

“Obviously it’s not going to be enough,” Munif said. “But I think it’s the beginning of the conversation and that’s important.”

Those who are interested in attending can register through this link.

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About the Contributors
Hannah Nguyen, Managing Editor
Hannah Nguyen (she/her) is a junior journalism major from North Wales, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in publications like The Boston Globe, North Penn Now and AsAmNews. Outside of writing, she enjoys thrifting and painting her nails. (see: https://linktr.ee/hannahcnguyen)
Margaux Jubin, Staff Writer
Margaux Jubin is a sophomore journalism major from Los Angeles, California. She is currently a Staff Writer for the Berkeley Beacon. Outside The Beacon, Margaux loves live music, hanging out with friends, and spending time in nature.

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