Pitzer Student Senate Disagrees Over Funding for Pro-Israel Student Retreat

During the Oct. 30 Pitzer College Student Senate Budget Committee meeting, a student’s request for $50 for transportation to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Progressive Student Retreat sparked lively debate when students sitting on the Budget Committee suggested that Senate not fund the student’s request.

The student who made the request asked for anonymity due to safety concerns.

According to Student Body President Josue Pasillas PZ ‘17, this was the first time this year that the Budget Committee recommended not to support a student’s conference funding request.

“It was clear that this decision was made based off ideological opinions. Just because they don’t agree with the organization, the Budget Committee should not impede on a student’s right to expand their education at a conference,” Pasillas said. “Let’s allow others to learn about organizations we don’t agree with. During our college experience, we should not only challenge other students with our views and perspectives, but also be challenged.”

Members of the Budget Committee debated the extent to which the student’s request would have a tangible impact on the Pitzer and Claremont Colleges Community. Citing Article IV of the Student Senate Budget Bylaws, which requires students receiving conference funding to present their findings to the Pitzer community, the Budget Committee argued that the student’s request had lacked a sufficient explanation of how they would bring what they learn back to campus.

“As a committee, we always try to be thoughtful and careful while voting. We make decisions based on what we feel will be most beneficial to the entire Pitzer community,” said Senior Class President and Budget Committee Member Chance Kawar PZ ‘17. “The Committee tries to ensure that money is allocated in a way that can make an impact on more than one person or one friend group.”

In an interview with TSL, the student who requested the funds explained that AIPAC had funded the majority of their trip, which they participated in last month, and that they were seeking $50 reimbursement for their transportation expenses.

“I was not asked a single question. I was maybe in the room for five minutes total, so I knew something was going to happen, I didn’t think it was to be to this scale. It was just really inconsistent with every Budget Committee experience I have had,” the student who requested funding said.

When the recommendation to not fund the student’s request was brought to the Student Senate meeting, senators voiced their concerns that the Budget Committee representatives were voting against the funding request for ideological reasons. During an Open Forum segment, Senator Dana Nothnagel PZ ‘19 urged her colleagues to discuss the budgetary suggestion not to fund the Student’s participation to the AIPAC Retreat.

“Pitzer is often a hostile environment for conservative or unpopular opinions. I strongly disagree with what AIPAC stands for, but that doesn’t mean anyone should prevent another student from learning about that perspective,” Nothnagel wrote in an email to TSL. “We pride ourselves on being an open-minded and diverse institution. That means that each point of view is valuable, no matter how extreme.”

The student who requested the reimbursement said that the Pitzer Student Senate has recently had the tendency to silence voices that are unique from those popularized on our campus, creating a toxic environment.

“It was disheartening because I am a political studies major, concentrating in middle eastern studies, and I need to understand this issue,” the student said. “It made me feel like I wasn’t having the choice to fulfill my education objectives through my major.”

Student senators in opposition to the student’s funding request raised concerns that allocating student activities fees to a student’s participation in an AIPAC function would express support for an institution that incites violence and promotes systematic oppression.

In an email to TSL, John Kalapos PZ ‘17 wrote, “Many people said that they were not comfortable funding a student to attend a conference put on by an organization such as AIPAC due to the fact that they advocate for violence on citizens from Palestine.”

The student said in their interview with TSL that AIPAC Retreat had given them the tools to fight for progress and reform within an institution that they support but do not fully agree with.

“The conference I went to was specifically geared for progressive students and dealing with the hardship of being pro-Israel but then not supporting an organization that is pro-Israel,” the student said. “I felt like it gave me the tools to understand how to be pro-Israel at Pitzer when it’s not an outspoken opinion and a lot of students are silenced because they support Israel.”

In the following Student Senate meeting, the student spoke about what they hope to see moving forward.

“We must recognize that Pitzer students don’t deserve to be silenced for having conflicting views. As our community value of dialogue states, ‘We have the right to be heard and the responsibility to listen,'” the student said. “To honor these values, the Pitzer College Student Senate should accept that students will have different opinions, and that is a good thing that brings diversity of thought to our campus.”

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