I have not personally been involved much with the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group on campus, but as I read the various articles and official statements from TSL, the Claremont Port Side, Electronic Intifada, and the SJP Facebook page, I found one particularly striking similarity: Claremont McKenna College has stressed the importance of making sure that SJP followed proper demonstration protocol, and SJP members, supporters, and staff writers have felt the need to underscore that they took every measure to ensure that they did.
I think that a professor’s use of the word “cockroach” directed toward a student is a truly heinous incident that should not be tolerated, regardless of whether protocol was followed or not. The fact that CMC, in their official statement, has said they need to investigate further into whether SJP proceedings were done by the book is symptomatic of a bigger problem. Such behavior suggests to students there are certain circumstances under which this behavior is OK, when in reality, no professor under any circumstances should ever speak to a student that way. While it is most certainly in large part due to the CMC administration’s desire to defend faculty and denounce any semblance of culpability, I do think it is also part of a larger issue, the closed-mindedness that comes with tyranny of the majority. It is a function of democracy that majority rules, but in its basest sense, this negates compromise and discourages understanding of minority positions, because if most people agree on something, it must be right. Right?
That is not to say that the reason the administration is lagging with its investigation is because the pro-Palestinian stance is held by a minority at the 5Cs. In fact, I would wager that for the most part our campuses are much more pro-Palestinian than the rest of the national population. But it’s still a contentious issue, and I do think it is a factor for CMC. I would argue that the senseless verbal abuse of a professor and subsequent targeting of the student hasn’t received more attention for precisely this reason. I have asked myself—as I’m sure many others have—whether the outcome would have been different if the professor had been Palestinian and the student had been Israeli. To put it in the mildest terms, I’m almost certain the CMC administration would not be dragging its feet if that had been the case.
A nationwide Gallup poll has shown that Americans are more pro-Israel than ever. Support for the Palestinians, the minority position, is often met with disdain, hostility, and ignorance. So it is little surprise that this horrific bias-related incident between a professor and a student who happened to be raising awareness for the Palestinians is barely talked about, while during the same week—when the actions of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee were perceived as anti-Semitic, before all the facts had come out—a variety of news sources and lobby groups falsely accused the group of targeting only Jewish students with fake eviction flyers. This was later disproved.
The crux of the issue is that what happened—and what continues to happen—following the incident is a symptom of the denigration of minority opinion. We are taught to believe that majority rules; we uphold common sense as a substitute for critical evaluation and careful thought. So often, instead of truly attempting to understand the other side’s opinions and arguments, we look for extraneous mistakes. We look for a slip in the delivery of the argument or a character flaw in those doing the arguing that would permit us to transfer—however fallaciously—that flaw onto the idea itself, so we may cling to our own perceptions without further analysis. It predicates the validity of the argument on the details of its execution.
But this is a dangerously bigoted endeavor that goes against everything our liberal arts education has taught us. And it forces those in the minority role to constantly be at the ready to defend themselves and their outlook, in a perfectly tranquil and eloquent manner—to do everything exactly by the book, so there may be even the slightest chance that their viewpoint is heard. The minority must be model. And even then, as history shows us, they are still often met by closed minds.