In the spring of my junior year of high school, I sat in our admission’s office and listened to a Goucher senior call this campus a place for “curious activists.” My mom pulled out her pen and wrote the term down on a now-dated admissions brochure. For a long time, I credited the phrase as the primary reason I landed at Goucher.
But now, after almost fours years at the school, the sentiment rings hollow.
Goucher’s activism culture, especially in the last few weeks surrounding Assi Azar’s lecture and film screening of “Mom and Dad: I Have Something to Tell You” has let me down. We are not curious activists here. We are closed-minded. We are divided. We are the kind of activists who would rather protest outside an event than go inside and hear (or engage with) an opponent’s opinion.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is messy. If anyone, Goucher Hillel included, does not believe it to be so; they are oversimplifying. I am a Jewish queer person who participates in and is employed by Goucher Hillel. I grew up in a liberal Jewish home. My position on the conflict cannot be assumed simply by politicizing my identity. The personal is deeply political, and try as we might to water this conflict down to an activism elevator speech, for those of us with complex and conflicting religious, sexual and political identities, it just cannot be done.
But there is no room on this campus for that kind of nuance. Hillel’s depiction of Israel has on willful “Birthright Blinders,” (read: a glossy brochure approach, featuring Jews on camelback) and pro-Palestinian students make being anti-Israel interchangeable with liberal values and queer identity.
And worse still, we rarely engage in rigorous discussions of policy and history on this campus, instead opting to distract from the gaping holes in our knowledge with catch phrases like “collective liberation” and “systemic oppression.” We scream, shout and call out everyone around us, before we consider educating ourselves on exactly what we’re fighting for. We love our activism like we love our Twitter: wrapped up in 140 characters.
The term “Pinkwashing” draws conclusions without the context required to support the intersectional claim it makes. On this campus, it functions as a catchall term that excuses us from true debate or robust knowledge of particular issues.
In class, it is enough to claim that we are offended, throw out a few buzz words and leave it at that. In allowing us to continue on this shaky foundation, our mentors do us a grave disservice. And we allow it happen—grateful to continue with the status quo, lest we be asked to dig deeper. If we really wanted to delve into the queer politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we would find a rich discussion that we are letting pass us by. We would do what (we believe) we do best: talk human rights, access, power and privilege.
In regards to Assi Azar’s film and appearance this week, an email was sent on behalf of TALQ BIG to students in Hillel that stated if the organization “refuses to cooperate in this discussion and ignores our demands, We, TALQ BIG, will take immediate grassroots action for the event to be shut down.” TALQ BIG ironically uses the word “discussion” despite its own disregard for the word. This is not grassroots organizing. This is intimidation.
Is this who we are? Are we “curious activists” who email threats and shutdown film screenings? Who refuse to engage in intellectual debate unless a piece of art reflects our own viewpoint? It’s worth noting too that this film is not right-wing propaganda that sings the praises of expanding the West Bank settlements. When an LGBTQIA+ group is threatening to shut down an event which features a person who is advancing gay rights in a part of the world that desperately needs it, we need to ask how we got here.
And what is more compelling than engaging a person in discussion who fights for some of your own views but departs from others? What could be more in line with “curious activism” than confronting a campus division in an open forum? But no, we’d rather boycott.
When John Huntsman, a former Republican governor and ambassador came to campus three years ago, liberals were first at the microphone to engage him. Despite his views on abortion and same-sex marriage, we spoke to him directly, and his views became an opportunity to sharpen our own opinions.
At Goucher, we stake down our separate tents and zip them up full of people who already agree with us. We willfully participate in ideological segregation, surrounding ourselves by only those who reflect our own views. I zipped tight my own tent for two years, and I acknowledge my own complicity in this system during my time as President of the Feminist Collective. I speak from experience when I say the “us versus them” approach did no favors for FemCo, which has since disbanded.
As a queer person, I don’t feel welcome at TALQ BIG. The group has made a radical anti-Israel position a prerequisite for being a proud queer person on this campus. All who agree are welcome. Queer people who don’t fit into that box are not. It is a supposedly inclusionary tactic with disturbingly exclusionary results.
In our commitment to delegitimize each other, we’ve forgotten how disagree with respect. We are better than that—or at least we should be. We have a standing opportunity to unzip our separate tents and venture out into the shared campground that brought us to Goucher in the first place. We can try in earnest to practice that word—dialogue—we all throw around so easily each day. That might be the first step in getting us back to the curious activism we once believed in.