By: Ilan SinelnikovThis academic year, African American students felt racially discriminated against at the University of Missouri, and that the university has not done much to address the issue. The students then decided to “explode” the story. They started protesting; they took all the racial issues outside to the media, and made the topic get national coverage and attention. Following the nonstop protests, the President of the university himself ended up stepping down from his position. The students won.
Also this year, College Republicans at the University of Minnesota proposed a resolution to hold a 9/11 moment of recognition through the Minnesota Student Association (MSA). MSA voted the resolution down, providing a logistical excuse, and also voicing an argument about how such a resolution will cause islamophobia and violate students’ safe space. The leaders of College Republicans made the story public, and wrote about it at the Minnesota Republic publication. Campus Reform then picked up the story, followed by the Washington Post, Fox News and other national channels. The pressure worked, and the University of Minnesota President had no other option but to publish a statement against MSA’s vote, clarifying that despite the vote, the University itself will remember and honor 9/11 victims. The University Alumni Association also published a similar statement. Justice won.
Last academic year, Students Supporting Israel’s chapter at Augsburg College was denied registration as an official chartered school group due to it being a Pro-Israel club. The students were asked clearly bias and discriminatory questions at the hearing where they were seeking to get the school’s recognition, so it was decided to take the story to the media. Numerous articles, radio attention, community pressure by emails, and multiple comments on Augsburg’s Facebook page led to change. The College published a statement overturning the decision, allowing the chapter its registration, and suspending the work of the committee that denied registration for an internal investigation. Both the students and justice won.
What was common to those three events? In all of them the students got what they were fighting for after making some noise.
It is often that students face injustices, discrimination or bigotry on campus. Many times different student groups, student governments, and even university officials assume that they can do whatever they want without being held accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, too many times such injustices are being swept under the table.
In the past years I witnessed how both students and organizations time and again decide to combat lies, propaganda, incitement and other types of unfairness “behind the scenes.” I often heard from students that “we do not want to make it into a big deal, and we want to solve it within the university.” I saw how this strategy has failed, as large institutions will tell students that they will “look into the issue,” taking days, weeks, and months to do so, ultimately resulting in inaction. I frequently heard other organizations say “let us talk to university officials and go through the bureaucratic channels; attracting attention is not the right thing to do so let’s be smart.” Here too, while being smart is always important, when an institution does not feel pressured it will never make a change to prevent the same injustices from being repeated.
Universities spend millions of dollars on advertising their brand name, trying to appeal to their alumni donors, perspective students, and parents who are often willing to spend a large sum on tuition to help their children through school. Thus, there is nothing that an academic institution fears more these days than bad publicity. Fortunately, today we live in a new era where news can travel much further than the borders of a local community, and where one hash tag can make a difference and cause thousands to act and pay attention to an academic institution when something wrong is going on inside of it.
National News Coverage - University of Minnesota
From the three examples at the beginning of the article we can learn that true change started and ended with a victory due to one common reason - the injustice discussions were taken outside the university walls. When the whole country heard about the absurd situation, the pressure made it so that it could not continue. In the days of Facebook and Twitter, when the whole nation is watching, every story can be exposed to hundreds of thousands of people, and we must start taking advantage of these powerful tools. We must let discriminating groups and administrators know that they will not be able to get away without being held accountable for their actions.
As Jewish and Pro-Israel activists, when each year we say “Never Again,” these words should stand also for our commitment to never again let lies, propaganda, and anti-Semitism slide under the table while we quietly move on with our day. The “behind the scenes” problem solving approach is failing when it comes to making a change on campuses. Solving issues in the “behind the scenes” is perhaps sometimes working in Washington D.C or at the State Capitol. However, true change on the ground, true justice led by young and passionate students, can only be made by exposing others publicly and by making a lot of noise. If students want to continue winning, we must show hate groups and discriminating institutions that the power is in our hands, and if our cause is just, that the truth will always be on our side.In 2012 Ilan Sinelnikov and Valeria Chazin registered the first Students Supporting Israel group at the University of Minnesota. Today Ilan is serving as the President and Founder of the SSI movement that has over 45 chapters across North America and Europe. SSI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and you can learn more about its work by visiting www.ssimovement.org