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UMaine admin need to stand with Arab students as equally as Israeli students

On Oct. 11, the University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Dean of Students Robert Dana and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost John Volin sent a joint email to all undergraduate students of the University of Maine and the University of Maine Machias. The email titled “Offering support for those affected by Israel-Hamas War” takes a position lacking nuance in its stance toward the contentious and enduring affairs between Israel and neighboring Arab countries.

The joint statement expresses horror and heartbreak at the attacks on innocent civilians in Israel by Hamas. Acknowledging people who are caught in the crossfire in the battle for this land can not justifiably be done in only one singular direction. Recognizing the deaths in Israel is not inherently wrong, but not equally acknowledging and sympathizing with the deaths of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces is a disappointing stance to be taken by the administration.

The piece does not once contain mention of Palestine or any other country beyond a single acknowledgment of “Israel and several others in the Middle East.” If UMaine wants to foster a diverse community, as they claim, then students of all regions should feel welcome and supported. We have students from Palestine and “several other” countries in the Middle East. The Vice President of Inclusive Excellence takes a stance that acknowledges Israeli deaths but not Palestinian deaths or the uprooting of people in Southern Lebanon due to shells and the use of white phosphorus by the Israeli forces. If the university chooses to issue a statement on any matter, it must ensure every student feels supported. This is especially true when they’re issuing a statement on such long-running discourse.

A student from Lebanon, who would prefer to remain anonymous, talked about how they personally felt isolated by the statement. They first talked about how their family, who are still in Lebanon, had to move for safety due to shelling in the South. This conflict has been something they’ve experienced throughout their life. Seeing it escalate like this has been a scary time for them and their family. Going through all this stress just to read a statement that, in their opinion, is very one-sided and not displaying any empathy for their experience is quite upsetting for them.

They say, “Initially, I was confused. I was trying to understand why they wanted to comment on such a divisive topic. I agree with wanting to express support for the innocent victims, but I think this email leaves out the other people.”

They discuss further and say that people who are directly affected by these issues and are not Jewish or Israeli are likely to be upset by this email or not take it well due to their exclusion. They also comment that since the school has a bigger population of students of Israeli descent compared to students of Arab descent, it feels like the administration is simply siding with the majority group of students on campus. Going forward, they would like to see the administration make efforts to not exclude international students from certain countries in their statements on global issues. They want the administration to address the population of Arab students honestly and stand with them as firmly as they do with Israeli students.

In the future, the administration needs to carefully consider that they are putting out the best possible statement for every student of this university. They have an obligation to every single student of this university always to have their best interests at heart.

In addressing global affairs, the university must remember the wide range of countries that its students come from. Seeing this statement prioritize one country and ignore several others dealing with the same conflict is disheartening and can not be honestly framed as the administration keeping every student in mind and expressing support for all students dealing with losses due to these tragedies. UMaine and its administration should absolutely express heartbreak at the death of innocents in Israel. The problem lies in not explicitly expressing heartbreak at the death of innocents in Palestine, Lebanon or any other country in the Middle East.

The author of this piece requested to stay anonymous.

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