Student leaders from Temple Student Government and several ethnic, religious and politically based groups gathered in the Rhoades Room of the Diamond Club on Nov. 19 to discuss a trend recognized by TSG Senate President Jeff Dempsey and Senate Clerk Colin Saltry – the organizations seem to strive to bring speakers to campus that will make their counterparts uncomfortable.
The dinner, which was attended by All Sides, the Muslim Student Association, Temple Hillel, Temple Students for Israel and Students for Justice in Palestine, started off with Dempsey asking representatives from each group about pet peeves of leading student organizations.
MSA President Monira Gamal Eldin, a senior international business and risk management major, responded to Dempsy’s opening inquiry and said it’s when non-dedicated members of her organization request events that have already happened.
President of All Sides Bryan Mann, a sophomore Jewish studies and political science major, said it was the difficulty making reservations for tabling and meeting space with Student Center Operations.
“One thing I don’t like is when people say they’re going to do something and don’t follow through,” Dempsey said.
Saltry jokingly responded to Dempsey, “I was going to say, ‘working with you.’”
This was the tone of the meeting: casual and lively. Every organization leader in attendance seemed pleased to meet one another and discuss the issues at hand that led to the string of recent controversial speakers to come to campus.
“I think it’s important that on campus, we have an atmosphere that everything is transparent and there’s mutual respect for the different group,” said Matan Silberstein, president of Hillel and senior Jewish studies major.
“Part of the problem is that we don’t know what each group does,” Gamal-Eldin said, adding that meeting the other organization leaders and being able to put a face with the name will help that.
Husam Debcha Qasem, president of Students for Justice in Palestine, while not opposed to the groups ending the tension of controversial guest speakers, said, “If conflict didn’t exist, then [SJP] wouldn’t exist.”
Dempsey suggested each group get to know each other. After the leaders grabbed their entrees from the buffet table, Dempsey suggested that everyone sit in a different seat, next to someone they didn’t know.
Not everyone did so, but Gamal-Eldin and Silberstein sat next to each and spoke about their organizations with one another.
“What does SJP need to know about Hillel?” Dempsey asked.
Silberstein explained to the entire party that Hillel was a Jewish, religious, cultural and educational group on campus promoting Jewish life.
The conversation shifted to the speakers that came to campus — the anti-Islam Dutch parliamentary member Geert Wilders; Norman Finklestein, a political scientist known for his controversial view that the Holocaust is exploited to promote Israeli interests; and Effi Eitam, an Israeli politician with controversial views in regards to Arab culture.
Dempsey said he thought Wilders’ visit started a trend.
“I would like to have a discussion on whether or not this is a trend,” he said, “and follow it up with whether or not we can sign a non-binding agreement to not invite speakers that are so controversial that they make people on this campus feel scared.”
The group discussed the extent to which the speakers’ visits were problematic, and the conversation shifted to the actual agreement.
Qasem said he doesn’t see the point in such an agreement.
“I don’t see any use for it because it seems like it would be used as a weapon to call people hypocrites,” he said. “When we disagree we’re going to bring it up and use it against each other.”
“It wouldn’t be a proactive agreement,” Saltry said. “It’s a small, extra step toward achieving a goal for a peaceful atmosphere.”
Silberstein proposed a different agreement, in which the leaders of the organizations meet every semester to gain an understanding between the different organizations.
“We’re not going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict here,” Silberstein added. “The only steps we can take are the ones to respect each other as student leaders and organizations.”
He suggested the agreement say that leaders will attend mandatory meetings once a semester.
“I think it’s a great idea. It’s a great start,” Gabriel Toran, TSI president, said.
“I think we should also [periodically] know what each organization is doing. As a student leader, I should know what Hillel, Crosswalk and the Lutheran Society are doing,” Gamal-Eldin also added.
Dempsey said he was pleased with this, adding, “If we can come together and agree on this, we can set a precedent for other student organizations.”
Gina D’Annunzio, director of Student Activities and faculty adviser for TSG, said all the student organizations should consider TSG a resource for all of them and to approach TSG with anything they need.
Megan Chialastri, vice president of All Sides and junior political science major, reminded everyone of the progress being made, even though the existing agreement wasn’t signed.
“Even having this dinner is something beautiful,” she said.
Saltry and Dempsey are currently working on a new agreement to match the suggestions made at the dinner.
You can reach Joshua Fernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.