Student coalitions on opposite sides of the Israel-Gaza conflict held simultaneous protests on a sunny afternoon two weeks ago. Though the groups claimed to be interested in dialogue, they stood on opposite sides of college walk, facing each other and exchanging few words.
Between the two groups stood a third trying to bridge the gap between the two polarized positions. Now, students continuing the spirit of that third group have banded together to organize an event that will give students a chance to discuss the issue.
The event, called Perspectives on Conflict, Perspectives on Peace, is scheduled to take place on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. in Earl Hall Auditorium, and will be open to all students.
Event planning was spearheaded by Leo Goldberg and Eliana Horn, both CC ’11, whose goal was to provide students with a forum to exchange viewpoints of the conflict in an environment of tolerance.
“I know a good number of people who have been waiting for this event to happen,” said Aseel Najib, CC ’12, board member of Turath, Columbia’s Arab cultural organization, and Spectator editorial board member. “The general feeling in our body is one of excitement and anticipation.”
The event has a diverse group of cosponsors, including Hillel, Turath, Amnesty International, the Columbia University College Republicans, the Columbia University College Democrats, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, and the Columbia International Relations Council and Association. Although the event is primarily student-run, the University Chaplain’s office is acting as an additional cosponsor.
The cosponsoring groups have been meeting over the last few weeks to plan the details of the event, which will include one-on-one discussions and written exercises. The groups are also working to provide publicity for the event. Each organization is sending e-mails to its mailing list to encourage its members to come, and the dialogue’s event page on Facebook has over 100 confirmed guests.
“We’re the vehicles for getting the word out,” said Lauren Salz, BC ’11 and executive director of the Columbia Republicans.
Despite the heavy involvement of groups in planning the event, however, none of the groups will be attending the event as individual group bodies. The emphasis on individual perspective is meant to ensure that students do not feel obligated to affirm beliefs that align with any single group’s philosophy. Because the goal of the dialogue is for students to learn from others’ perspectives, the acknowledgment of differing views, even within groups, is crucial to the event’s success.
Members of Respecting Ourselves and Others Through Education, or ROOTEd, a group of trained student facilitators, will be present to help ensure that people have the chance to express their feelings in an environment in which they are assured to be listened to and respected.
Many of the group leaders are hopeful that engaging other groups in the effort to promote peaceful conversation will not only allow students to understand a wide variety of points of view about a sensitive subject but also encourage the groups to work together more in the future.
“I think the more we engage, the more we sit down and bounce around ideas, the more we can evolve,” Sarah Brafman, CC ’10 and president of Hillel said.