I will start by saying I celebrate Passover. As I begin to write, my dad is driving down from Boston in the dark and the rain just so I can be at my family’s Seder the next day. This is how important the holiday is for my family and me. Most people assume I’m going home for Easter.
Sometime since yesterday, someone hung a banner in the Usdan student center making a statement about the hypocrisy of celebrating Passover when there is an “apartheid” occurring in Palestine. I found the claim—that those who celebrate Passover (read: people who are Jewish) are responsible for an apartheid movement—deeply disturbing. I’m all for beginning a discourse on the state of the Middle East; I didn’t think the message was particularly constructive. I was especially hurt that someone wished to degrade my experience to a hypocritical political passivism. So what did I do? I overreacted.
I went to the student information desk and asked for a pair of scissors. They asked for my ID and gave me a pair of scissors. It was very easy. I realized the poster was hung from inside “the loud side,” but the doors were locked. A few girls sitting inside hesitated to let me in and then a Usdan worker (the one who is always directing traffic and order near the conveyor belt) started in about how the doors are locked because “we’re technically closed” and I cut in: “I really just want to take down this sign.” He said, “Well, if you’ve got a job to do, don’t let me stop you!” and I thought to myself, “Yes, I do have a job to do.” I went upstairs to where the sign was hanging from and cut it down. One snip was all it took. It was exhilarating. The sign fell to the ground. Very dramatic. I love drama. It was actually, in a sick way, kinda fun. I laughed. I was proud of myself for taking decisive action. I couldn’t just sit bac k like you’re supposed to on Passover. I stood up for something I cared about. I felt like a college student.
I went to retrieve the poster, hoping it hadn’t given anybody a horrible paper cut in their eyeballs or something like that. There were two dudes in the alcove by the television where the paper had fallen. One was absorbed in his laptop; the other, an acquaintance, looked at me with a bit of distrust. He looked like a person who had just had a large piece of paper fall on him from above—you know the look? “I’m protesting the protest,” I gloated. I folded up the paper and happily went to return the scissors. I was over-eager and did not cover my tracks.
When I returned to the desk, it was obvious that the sign wasn’t mine. This was my first mistake: I was too proud. I didn’t consider that the student workers manning the desk would come to this realization, but when they did, they yelled at me, spoke down to me, wrote me up in their nightly report, and told me they were going to rehang the sign. They said, “Just because you disagree with the views expressed doesn’t mean you have the right to tear down the sign. This is a *Student* Center. Are you a student?” Uh, yes, I am a student, and I would like to feel safe and relaxed (especially about Passover) in my *Student* Center. The worker continued, “I’ve been to Israel. And we get calls from community members and parents saying it’s offensive.” They said the messages had been pre-approved by the University Center. And this is where my second mistake lay: I had not anticipated that the University could possibly have signed-off on a message such as the one that was crumpled under my arm. I had assumed somebody randomly hung the sign up to be antagonistic. Apparently Wesleyan students need permission for guerilla protesting. That the messages have been expressed before in the University Center (remember Apartheid Week?) and complained about before (according to the student worker), and that in the end the student workers were not pleased with what I had done, these were all things I had not considered could possibly play out. I needed a minute to think, but instead the worker yelled at me, “You know, you can make your *own* sign.” Ugh, what would my sign even say? Pls stop your anti-semitism pls? Don’t attack me for celebrating Passover maybe? Happy Easter? No, they already have that last statement outside of the Cardinal Technology Store. No question mark.
I am angry and frustrated that the student university center would allow this message, and I still can’t tell if I’m really overreacting or being oversensitive. I have been taught to fight against hate speech in its full-blown forms and its subtler expressions. Isn’t this message a form of speech that is harmful? Is that allowed under the right to “free speech” (pre-law folks, help me out).
To be honest, I have been disappointed with the protesting on campus this semester. More questions: has fleeting bitterness—(AKA what I feel when I see certain flyers on campus and oh yeah “Climate Change is Racist”)—has fleeting bitterness ever really changed anybody’s mind? Isn’t there something we can do to be a bit more productive these days than just shout at each other through black and red paint?
In any case, I understand that if you want to get a point across, making a statement in the most-frequented locations on campus is a logical move. But is this in effect sacrificing the feelings of security of some people on campus? Personally, I don’t go to Usdan to be politically mobilized. Usdan is a place that is tailored to pre-frosh and their parents. Usdan is a place where I go to get some food, maybe a drink, say hi to a friend or two, and check my mail. Basically, I’m just tired of everyone being in my face about the latest thing they’re protesting, especially at Usdan. Maybe I’m just there too often. I mean, it is the Student *Center*.
Because at the time, I did not feel personally safe at the Student Center after being embarrassed by the two desk workers, I went to the Music Studios and hid under a piano and cried a lot. I texted a friend who helped me out of an incoming panic attack, and she suggested I start writing. At first, “this” was going to be an email to my Professor of Theory. Then it was going to be to the Rabbi. Then it was to my friend. Now it’s to the Argus.
My dad, who you might recall was driving up from Boston as all this panned out, texted me a couple hours later to say he had made it to campus. I started walking home. I was walking empty-handed.
I remembered that I had been so excited at the prospect to keep the poster. I would reveal it to all of my family friends at the Seder, showing it off like the head of a decapitated traitor. That is pretty sick, I know, and for this thought-image I apologize. Really though, I just wanted my friends to be proud of me, my parents to be proud of me.
My dad was waiting on the porch as I approached, and I waved to him in the distance. I called out, “Hi how are you?” Now imagine the best Eastern European accent in your mind and pretend you can hear him say: “Pretty good, yourself?” Reluctantly: “I’m good. I have to tell you something, Daddy. I did something bad.” Even in the dark, I could tell he looked apprehensive. “I got written up.” He looked very confused. In the car ride home, I explained what I had done. He laughed after every point in the plot. When I was finished he said, “OH, Abb, I am actually really proud of you for this you did. You are becoming rebellious! I like it! Gooood job!!” I cried a little more.
Yes, the student worker had been right: Usdan is a *Student* Center. I want my peers to feel like they have some semblance of a safe place on campus. Maybe the Student Center just can’t be one of them.