Responsible Activism Matters

Posted by Editorial Board

One of the most difficult aspects of attending Skidmore College is trying to navigate the charming side of the College and its corporate, institutional edge.

This week, a coalition of students formed to lobby faculty members, academic departments and college committees in hopes of convincing Skidmore to allow students to study abroad in Israel. Much like the state of Israel, they were a well-organized group, representing a small but omnipresent population in their society and hoping for formal recognition. 

The group (totaling about ten students) approached the Committee on Academic Standing (CAS), a committee of academic, administrative and student members that formulate and administer policy.

CAS might colloquially be known as the "exceptions committee"-when your GPA is short of the 3.0 necessary for studying abroad, CAS decides whether or not you go.

The aforementioned group of students lobbied CAS hoping that it would be willing to amend the policy, which prohibits students from studying aboard in countries on the State Department Travel Warning list. The students do not what the policy amended wholesale, but, rather, hope that students wishing to study abroad in Israel be permitted to do so,despite the fact that Israel finds itself on the Warning list (with the likes of Kenya, Mexico and Egypt, among others). CAS, though, could not make this change even if it felt that allowing students to study abroad in Israel was a prudent choice, as such a decision is under the purview of Skidmore's Risk Management office. 

Although students cannot study in Israel with a recognized study-abroad program, they can take a personal leave, study in Israel and have their credits transferred back upon return. Two students in the group have followed this route. However, personal leave only affords students 11 transferrable credits. So why not ask CAS to expand personal leaves to allow students to transfer back 18 credits? 

One of the students suggested that Catholic students would be allowed to travel to Rome, even if it was on the State Department Travel Warning list, and that the College's decision to prohibit travel to Israel was rooted in an anti-Semitic sentiment. An anonymous senior involved in the movement wrote in Skidmore Unofficial, "while some might say it is a security issue, this cannot be the sole answer," implying that there was a degree of discrimination toward Israel. 

To continue suggesting that the College's resistance to giving Israel the exception is anti-Semitic is not only erroneous but undermines what could otherwise be a reasonable argument: that students should be able to study in Israel as part of a recognized study abroad program. 

But this abrasive behavior that, often times, is more visceral than anything else seems to run rampant in many student activist movements on campus. 

In trying to actualize their ideals, many students-this Israel coalition, the Skidmore Labor Student Alliance and those who protested Cynthia Carroll-often try to negotiate with the CTM side of Skidmore when they need to reason with the corporate side of Skidmore. In an instance when the school has to weigh values-educational experience in other nations vs. student safety-there is very little wiggle room. 

But there's still some wiggle room.

When their needs aren't instantly met, these groups, instead of looking for alternatives or compromises, students, inhibited by their sense of idealism, resort to unsavory tactics-labeling, storming faculty meetings, trespassing. Activism on campus is completely necessary as there are plenty of examples of the school falling short.

However, sometimes we just need to know how big our "ask" can be. Instead of storming a faculty meeting to express their anger, Carroll protesters should have limited their scope of demands. Why not have Ms. Carroll sponsor a lecture series in business ethics? Concurrent with the Carroll protests, a small group of students were hoping to make an academic innovation: they wanted to add a business ethics course to the core curriculum for business majors. However, there wasn't enough money to hire a new business ethics professor. An ask like that might have ensured that the next miner-exploiting corporate CEO (as protesters framed Carroll) would not be a Skidmore alum.

Much of the circulating criticism of student activism is not heaped on those who participate but those who don't. There is a large quiescent majority. And there's nothing wrong with that. 

People who do not want to participate in social or political activism, or be involved in school events, don't have to. Their tuition is no worse than yours. Although, as those who wish to start a new club or initiative know, this inactive majority is always willing to sign a petition, not really do too much and, yet, feel like they have.

However, when they sign a petition, or they vote for SGA representatives, or they trust others to lobby on their behalf, it's up to campus leaders to do it the right way. Maybe we shouldn't question the large, apathetic majority; maybe we should question the small, organized minority who try to affect change. Because if we sign a petition, it means we're entrusting these students-that's what a petition is-to do it the right way.

Livestrong branders are concerned with making sure everyone has a yellow band on their hand, and we accept that our consumption is our endorsement of their mission statement. It doesn't mean that Livestrong should guilt others, or insinuate that they don't care about cancer.

So when you represent a large group on campus--whether you're SGA, SLSA, J Street U, a Cynthia Carroll protester-consider that students expect you to do the due diligence, not call powerless committees "anti-Semitic."

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