Cowardice, Collaboration or Ceasefire

On March 25, 2024, Wesleyan University’s President Michael S. Roth made history as the first college president in America to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. It took six months and over 33,000 murders (enough to fill Harvard’s football stadium and then some) for a leader of this caliber to do this. We do not have time to lament this tardiness, though, or even point out his lack of calling for a permanent ceasefire; college presidents must follow suit. Roth has begun to clear the way for leaders like our own President Joanne Berger-Sweeney to declare the same necessary message. 

It is worth noting the path Roth took to reach this opinion: in 2014, he published an article criticizing the American Studies Association for supporting the boycott of Israeli educational institutions. Many liberation scholars, including Robin D.G. Kelley, responded to this article and clearly broke down where Roth’s argument went wrong. Ten years later, after listening and learning, particularly from his students, Roth is the first to take a step many college presidents are wary of, especially after three Ivy League presidents were heavily criticized for their problematic responses to anti-Semitism on campus in December. 

Roth has finally arrived at the conclusion that much of the world has understood since the Oct. 7 resistance attacks – a conclusion now intensified with the recent killings of humanitarian aid workers by the Israeli military, including an American citizen. He now calls on government leaders such as Connecticut senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy to double their efforts to make a ceasefire happen, which is quickly becoming less controversial as even leaders like Nancy Pelosi call on President Biden to stop sending weapons to Israel. 

Roth’s op-ed does not only press for a ceasefire. He enriches his argument by pointing to the dangers of institutional neutrality:  “Instead of participating in debates, leaders [are told they] should keep silent, which somehow is supposed to encourage more thoughtful speech from others.” This is not the case, Roth says, and does not foster dialogue in the way college administrators claim. 

“Almost all colleges and universities have mission statements with moral commitments, and the fact that leaders of these institutions cannot possibly comment on everything does not mean they should comment on nothing. Silence at a time of humanitarian catastrophe isn’t neutrality; it’s either cowardice or collaboration.”

Cowardice or collaboration is exactly what we see from Trinity’s leaders. Berger-Sweeney hesitates to even say “Palestine” or “Gaza” in her few, lackluster emails since Oct. 7, much less “ceasefire” and god forbid “genocide.” To be clear, Roth does not say genocide either, providing a prime example of the hesitancy surrounded the alleged “buzz word.” While I am skeptical of propping up the United Nations as a reputable organization, the body dictating international law has affirmed the nature of this genocide for a long time. 

Berger-Sweeney, you are not the only administrator that can and should speak out, although as the leader of this institution, I would argue your voice has the most impact and you carry the heaviest responsibility. To other administrators: we are waiting on you, too. When will you truly advocate for peace instead of squeamishly skirting the issue? Thirty three thousand Palestinians is over 15 times the amount of students currently enrolled at Trinity. 

Being a leader on a college campus is hard. Roth says it best: “The war in Gaza has brought out the best and worst impulses on campuses in America.” He goes on to describe the overlooked intellectual efforts of students, and the overemphasized examples of conflict, including genuine fear from and antagonization of both Muslim and Jewish students. Roth, who I may remind you is Jewish, pushes on: “Yes, these incidents of hate on college campuses are appalling, but they should not distract us from the most important task right now: getting aid to Palestinians in Gaza while there is still time to save lives.”

Trinity College leaders, it is time to follow in Roth’s footsteps. Students have worked overtime to send you this message. Berger-Sweeney, there were ample opportunities for YOU to be the first American college president to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. You did not. Your people did not. Your students are the ones advocating for peace. Now that one of your peers, our Connecticut neighbor Michael Roth, has taken the first step, it should be a little less scary for you to take the second. We are waiting. 

-OPS

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  1. 1
    Victor Eremita

    There are a number of questions that one might raise about this recent op-ed, but one, above all, stands out: what does Silvey mean by the phrase “Oct. 7 resistance attacks?” (see para. 3 “Roth has finally arrived at the conclusion that much of the world has understood since the Oct. 7 resistance attacks…”)

    Is Silvey trying to suggest–via her use of this phrase–that while we are to condemn in the strongest possible terms the horrific killing of Gazans by the IDF we ought to view the murders committed by agents of Hamas merely as “resistance attacks?”

  2. 2
    Beth

    “Resistance attacks”? That’s what we’re calling cold blooded massacre, murder and rape now?

    Did you know that Native Americans are still the poorest in the world and that Native women are disappearing at a staggering rate? But you don’t care about that because you might have to face your own complicity and lack of action and stop playing the superior savior.

    Why aren’t your screaming about the murders in the Ukraine, Sudan, Rwanda; the human rights abuses in Syria and SaudiArabia; the genocide of the Weigers in China? Why is it only when Jews defend their right to exist that you go full blown performative justice warrior?

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