The college campus is an open-minded environment that encourages a free-flowing exchange of ideas and the intellectual freedom to explore a range of issues. With so many ideas in play comes a considerable responsibility. In order to maintain this level of openness, it is essential that we act respectfully toward one another. We may not always agree with everything that is said, but when even a single person is scorned for his or her beliefs, this community that we’ve tried so hard to build is put into jeopardy.
Last week, a group on our campus acted in a way which threatens the college environment that we at Binghamton University hold so dear.
On Friday, Sept. 12, I attended the weekly Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) meeting. As someone who cares about Israel, I often attend these meetings to better understand their positions since I believe a lasting peace requires dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and their supporters. SJP, whose resolutions forbid “collaboration” with pro-Israel organizations, is aware of my affiliation with these groups. I do my utmost to simply sit silently and listen attentively when I am present, trying to understand a perspective often different from my own.
That night, I stayed as I long as I could, but after half an hour I had to leave to attend prayer services since the Jewish Sabbath begins Friday evening. As I quietly exited the room, I heard a snide voice: “Oh, was it something I said?” “No,” I answered, “The Sabbath is beginning and I need to leave for prayers.” At that moment, the entire room broke into laughter. Horrified and embarrassed, I left the room.
When I heard a room full of my peers laugh in response to my religious convictions, I could not have been made to feel more embarrassed, uncomfortable and ashamed than I was at that moment. Part of me wants to believe that it was not malicious in intent and the reason for the laughter was that my response was completely unexpected. Nevertheless, a student who witnessed the incident approached me later in the week to state how upsetting it was to see how the room reacted toward me. The feelings it elicited within me were ones of rejection and exclusion.
This is the first time I experienced blatant disrespect for my religion and my beliefs and I never expected college to be the place where I would receive such contempt. I am more than my religion and political views. Just like every other student, I am a member of the BU community. If we cannot find it in ourselves to respect one another in spite of his or her religious practices, how can we ever expect to address larger and more complex issues?
When asked by friends how I would respond to last Friday’s events, I cited the Jewish concept of ahavat chinam — absolute love, which calls for unequivocal admiration of every human being. Using every day as an opportunity to treat one another with unconditional love and understanding, we can work to dispel even the smallest amount of distrust from this world.
As someone who sees himself as a member of the larger University community, it is important that both groups and individual students be sensitive so as to not isolate or ostracize others due to their affiliations or convictions. We pride ourselves on the diversity of our student body with individuals of all backgrounds and viewpoints. By recognizing the need to respect our peers even when we do not agree, we each become a partner in safeguarding Binghamton as an environment of openness and inclusion.
– Joshua Seed is a junior majoring in Urban and Regional Planning