Last Wednesday, Webster University disappointed me more than I ever thought possible.
I chose to attend Webster because of the global education I would recieve. I loved the idea of a university steeped in diversity and ideas, with campuses and students all over the world.
Israeli psychologist and scholar, Maya Kahanoff, was the main speaker. President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis Andrew Rehfeld followed Kahanoff. The event ended with a few interrupted words from a rabbi. No Palestinians took the stage that night — and there was no one representing a Palestinian point-of-view.
So there was a symposium on the reconciliation of one of the world’s most controversial and long-standing conflicts, and only one side was represented? Israel and Palestine are the only two groups listed on the Genocide Watch List as a threat to each other. And Webster University, an institution that emphasizes global education in its mission statement, didn’t seem to think it was very important to include both sides in this discussion.
The conflict between Palestine and Israel will always be a controversial subject. As a Palestinian-American student at Webster, I was appalled, insulted, offended and hurt very deeply. And as I write this, I am angry.
No one on that stage represented me. No one spoke for me. I watched that presentation feeling stunted and silenced.
I was not alone; the St. Louis Palestinian Solidarity Committee (STL-PSC) attended the event at the last minute in protest. The group stood outside the symposium and handed out flyers explaining their problem with the lack of representation.
Around 10 members of the STL-PSC took a seat when the symposium started. They sat through both presenters, and then they opened the floor for questions. A whole two people, one of which was a Palestinian professor at Webster, got to ask a question before the host announced they only had time for one more.
The room was tense. There were people who didn’t get a chance to speak, including myself. My mind was doing flips between anguish and anger. I stood up, ready to speak without a microphone and ask why there was no Palestinian representation on that stage. But I thought better of it, and I sat back down. It was evident to me that I wasn’t alone. The crowd’s murmurs got louder; people were standing up; the host introduced the rabbi, and half the crowd walked out of the auditorium.
It would have been perfectly acceptable to have a one-sided discussion about the State of Israel, or even the conflict itself. But this wasn’t a generic topic. This was about the reconciliation of two peoples.
It wouldn’t have been appropriate if the symposium was about closing the gender gap, and there were only men on stage. It wouldn’t have been appropriate if the symposium was about even distribution of wealth in the City of St. Louis, and there were only a bunch of rich, white people on stage. And what happened on Wednesday wasn’t just inappropriate. It was insensitive.
I don’t think our pride in diversity and global inclusiveness at Webster is aesthetic. This symposium was an insult to everything we do at Webster.