I’m just going to talk about a few things regarding this whole Oren debacle that have been bothering me.

I am sick of being treated like (and assumed to be with no real basis) an uninformed, protest-happy, activist.  Instead of dismissively demeaning my intelligence because of the position I hold in opposition to this decision, I wish we could have a conversation more focused on addressing the reality of the divides that have been underlined in our class community.  (I say that to you especially, Jehuda)

I am also sick of being blamed for creating the divisiveness that I am speaking out in protest of.  My statement of opposition to Oren being chosen as our commencement speaker* is not what created this divide.  The reality is, even if everyone who felt offended/upset/ostracized by the choice didn’t speak out, didn’t say anything, didn’t protest– the divide would still be real.  Real and invisible to those who are supportive or apathetic about him speaking.  The divide is real and an obvious result of this choice.

For me, the imposition of the Middle East conflict in my commencement makes me feel even more separated from the identity of a “Brandeis student” (see Jeremy Sherer’s article in the Justice*).  As a non-Jew at Brandeis, it is often assumed that I couldn’t possibly understand the conflict no matter how much research I do.  It’s true, I have no personal connection to the conflict, but if this were just an issue about politics, why would that matter?  We all fully understand that this is a very divisive issue particularly at Brandeis, primarily because it isn’t just an issue about politics–it’s an issue that reaches down to our personal identities and the communities we belong to.  This conflict viscerally affects people of varying identities within the Brandeis community in wildly different manifestations, which is why the choice of Oren is so particularly divisive.

I also want to vocalize to those who are concerned about their commencement day being ruined by disrespectful protesters, that I understand.  Considering what happened at UC Irvine, it’s a logical fear.  So please just know that I do not in any way shape or form intend to ruin our day and I have yet to hear from anyone planning any form of disruptive protest*.

So let’s stop criticizing and intentionally provoking each other. Let’s stop making the divide greater.  Let’s not make assumptions about each other, but engage in truly constructive dialogue.  But let’s not ignore the real issues present. Many people don’t want their commencement ruined by disrespectful protesters.  Understandable.  Many people don’t want a speaker who politicizes their commencement (regardless of their political leanings).  Also, understandable.  Let’s talk like adults who respect each other, ok?

I welcome civil conversation with anyone about this, especially if you have creative ideas about how we can express ourselves in an intelligent and respectful way.

~Jessica Stearns
Class of 2010

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*Note that there is a big difference between a commencement speaker and a speaker just visiting campus.  We can discuss this if you’d like.

*Again, these feelings are not incited by Jeremy, they were present beforehand. I promise you.

*If I do, I will actively be taking part in preventing that from happening

5 comments on “Let’s Take A Step Back”

  1. Sahar Says:

    Beautiful! Thank you.

  2. Jourdan Says:

    This is so well-said. Thank you, Jessica.

  3. Benny Says:

    I respectfully disagree Jessica, especially to the line “even more separated from the identity of a “Brandeis student”

    1) Brandeis University was founded for several reasons, a major one being the idea of self-determination for Jews. At the time, there were quotas on Jews at many universities, and Brandeis wanted to create a Jewish-sponsored university that would give a fair chance for all people for a great education. Israel, also founded in 1948, was created to allow Jews a homeland of their own, that would welcome people of all faiths, where they could defend themselves. Louis Brandeis, a Zionist himself, founded Brandeis along the same lines as Israel, to create a secular Jewish-inspired university where Jews could go to get a good education.
    Therefore, inviting Michael Oren, the official Israeli ambassador to the US, is a great choice by the Brandeis establishment. The country he represents shares a close and special connection with the students and the history of Brandeis University. As an upcoming graduate of Brandeis, you are joining a network of alumni privileged to have been educated by an institution with a rich, multi-layered, and symbolic history. Brandeis represents a major success in Zionism, and to have an ambassador from the literal representation of Zionism, Israel, is a perfect match for Brandeis, and for a graduating class that is moving into a world where Israel is one of the few free and fully democratic countries. You, your peers, and the rest of the Brandeis alumni share that connection, whether Jewish or not, to this country that influenced your education, and in the future will influence the world. Whatever you believe about the conflict, Oren is representing a country that represents your school. To have him further represent your commencement is a gift.

    Benny, Future Class of 2014

  4. Dan Orkin Says:

    Benny,

    There are a lot of things you have said in your above post which are incorrect– much of this you will realize when you get to Brandeis. First and foremost, however, Louis Brandeis died in 1941 and had nothing to do with the founding of Brandeis University.

    Congrats on your acceptance, by the way!

    -Dan

  5. david smucker Says:

    jess:
    beautiful in its logic & clarity. just an echo:

    while a protest can be disruptive and make people uncomfortable, subjecting the graduating class to a speaker as polarizing as oren can be equally if not more discomforting and disruptive not just for people who oppose him (such as myself) but for moderates alike who dont want a special day hijacked by politics. would it be that difficult to get someone like a random intellectual, journalist, the co-creator of ‘friends’, debra messing or some other vacuous alumni who at least have the decency to cede the task of provoking us, to US??

    not advocating complacency here, just noting that most commencement speakers spew incredibly tedious, dull, hackeneyed speeches full of tired advice anyway, but this is 1,000 times BETTER than an extremist spewing incredibly offensive, alienating, and ostracizing politically-charged advice. i’d rather leave commencement day tired and a little cranky vs. enraged and embarrassed by my school. i’d take debra over michael any day.

    p.s. benny, im afraid you’re in for a terrible surprise: if brandeis represented zionism, israel, and michael oren, i and hundreds of others would not have spent 4 glorious years here. (glorious might be a bit strong) also, listen to dan, he knows his stuff.

    p.p.s. i meant no offense to ms. messing, i actually quite like her.

    -dav