Over the past few days, controversies surrounding a speaker coming to campus have prompted a heated exchange of emails between student groups.
On Oct. 21, KSFI sent a Student-Info email about a meeting where they wanted to “discuss healthy and productive ways to respond to such problematic ideas on campus” as those they believe are held by Marc Lamont Hill, a social justice activist who focuses on the Black-Palestinian movement, and his visit to campus this Sunday.
They wrote that many students have been made uncomfortable with the upcoming event, and stated that Lamont Hill “calls for ‘a free Palestine from the river to the sea’ (an implicit call for the end of the state of Israel).” The email continued to say that, “while KSFI unequivocally supports the right to free speech, we are disappointed that KSJP [Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine] and other groups chose to invite a speaker whose comments were deemed hate speech by the Anti-Defamation League.”
“Obviously, every group has the right to bring in who they choose,” Ben Reingold ’20, president of KSFI, said in an email to the Collegian, “but from what I knew about Marc Lamont Hill, I knew he was more likely to repeat anti-Israel talking points and make very generic condemnations rather than talking about legitimate problems and solutions.”
Many student organizations which co-sponsored the event—the Black Student Union (BSU), Bridge Kenyon, Active Students Helping the Earth Survive (ASHES), Kenyon Young Democratic Socialists of American (KYDSA), Kenyon Magnetic Voices, A Medio Camino and the Muslim Student Association (MSA)—took issue with these statements.
On October 22, KSFI held a meeting to discuss concerns surrounding the event, where many co-sponsors voiced their opinions. “We wanted this meeting to be a space for students who felt uncomfortable or alienated by Hill’s past comments to come together and discuss our reactions in a productive way,” Reingold said. “A couple dozen students came who were very upset about our initial email.”
This dialogue, however, did not go as Reingold originally wanted. “Some students started laughing when we expressed our real grievances with Marc Lamont Hill’s beliefs,” he said. “Others threw out inflammatory and unequivocally false assertions about Israel. They essentially prevented us from having the important conversation that we planned on having.”
On Oct. 23, the day after the contentious meeting, KSFI issued an apology to the organizations involved in the Lamont Hill event, saying that “We very much regret that our email unintentionally associated the co-sponsoring organizations of the Lamont Hill talk with hate speech. We highly respect the missions and members of the clubs co-sponsoring this event.” KSFI went on to reiterate their previous arguments, but encouraged students to attend the event and continue the dialogue.
However, the co-sponsoring student organizations wrote in a Student-Info email that the apology was inadequate. “Although an apology to the campus was sent by [KSFI] after their email, we still think important points are missing in the apology and the larger dialogue regarding this conflict,” KSJP wrote. “[KSFI] also failed to include KSJP in their apology. Instead, their email apologized to every organization co-sponsoring the event other than KSJP.”
This email was re-sent by many of the groups co-sponsoring the event. “I was glad that [KSFI] realized that their words were harmful, but I was disappointed that [KSFI] excluded Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine from their apology,” ASHES Co-president Graham Ball ’21 said.
Reingold stated that the apparent exclusion was not KSFI’s intention. “When we said ‘the co-sponsoring organizations,’ we intended to include [KSJP]. We do respect their members, even if we disagree with their mission and goals,” he said.
Dani Martinez, chief editor of A Medio Camino, felt that KSFI’s original email unfairly spoke on behalf of all Jewish people. “As a director and editor of this magazine, I can say we also try to represent as many voices as possible,” she said in an interview with the Collegian. “Personally, it is unnerving to have seen that initial email that came from [KSFI] and to see that they, without any thought, grouped an entire community of students together. It was hurtful to me personally because I am a Jewish person and I don’t have those same worldviews as them.”
Reingold wants the discussion on campus surrounding the upcoming talk to continue. “I won’t be intimidated to back down in my defense of what I believe is just and right,” he said.
Lamont Hill will give his talk on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in Brandi Recital Hall.
KSJP did not respond to requests for comment.
Kayleigh McCoy contributed reporting.