By Shawn Ness | October 16, 2023
Students that came to speak during public comment.
Photo Credit: Maceo Foster / ASP
A large group of Muslim students and many members of the University at Albany Student Association (SA) spoke out against the university’s statement on the Israeli-Palestine conflict because they believed it had forgotten the people of Palestine.
Michael Christakis, the Vice President for Student Affairs, sent out an email Wednesday morning with a statement on the current conflict between Israel and Palestine. “Like many of you, we were shocked this weekend by the violent and gruesome attacks in Israel and the brutal fighting that continues in its aftermath. We continue to watch the crisis unfold in Israel and the Gaza Strip and grieve the violence and senseless loss of life,” the statement reads.
Additionally, the email contained links to many of UAlbany’s mental health services for students in need. The email ended with a declaration for a peaceful end to the conflict.
The email was sent three days after Hamas, a militant group based in Gaza attacked a concert on the Israeli side of the border on October 7, killing at least 260 people. Israel has occupied the Palestinian territory of Gaza since 1967 after Israel attacked Jordan and annexed the land. The modern conflict goes back to 1948 when David Ben-Gurion declared the land as the formal state of Israel after it became a refuge for Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust. This would force nearly 700,000 Palestinians and Arab people out of the area.
Razan Elsir, a UAlbany student who attended the meeting and spoke out against the email during the public comment, said “The main reason we are here is that, for the past 75 years, Palestinians have been undergoing oppression, genocide, and apartheid by the Israeli government’s illegal occupation, yet there was silence from UAlbany. My own country has been at war, but there was silence from UAlbany. Palestinians have been undergoing genocide, but there was silence from UAlbany. Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, silence. But when Israel feels something, all of a sudden the university wants to be outraged.”
Her statements received many table knocks, which is SA’s form of a clap. She ended her statement that the university can either speak for all people who are experiencing oppression or none of them.
“We have to understand that truth, justice, and freedom cannot just be for one group of people. Truth, justice, and freedom have to be for all [people],” Ousmane Diallo, a senior at UAlbany, said during public comment. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… There must be regard for the [Palestinian] people. There must be a regard for them. There must be a feeling for them. And we can’t just sit there and be hypocrites. We hope to see SA come and stand with us for the innocent Palestinian lives that have been lost.”
Diallo’s statements were met with similar applause. Many other Senators echoed Elsir’s and Diallo’s statements.
“I am Jewish myself, and I was very mad, because as someone who considers themselves an activist and a humanitarian, what you guys said was completely valid. You’re right, no one cares. We invade Yemen, and no one cares. No one cares when we bomb Lebanon. We bomb Syria, no one cares. [UAlbany] only cares when it’s a white, western country getting attacked,” Senator Will Loreti said. “I cried for my fellow Jews. It hurts my soul to see these people being gunned down, it’s horrible, no one’s saying it isn’t. But Palestinians have undergone oppression for nearly 80 years. Water was kept from them, medicine blockaded. Kids bombed… and no one has cried for them for the last 70 years.”
Senator Selwa Khan, also addressed the issue, saying, “As a proud Arab woman… I think it’s important to note that there are no Middle Eastern studies classes on campus. All of them exist within the political science department. I took one of those classes..." Senator Khan continued, claiming that a professor allegedly referred to all Arab people as barbarians.
SA also saw two Senators resign; Jacob Velasquez, and Olivia Hepp. Velasquez provided the ASP with a statement he sent to SA executives explaining his resignation.
“I, Jacob Velasquez, formally resign my seat as Senator-at-large. After deep consideration with peers, constituents, and other Senators, I have come to the conclusion that my position has been plagued by drama that pre-exist this current academic year,” the letter reads. “It goes without saying that a majority of the student body maintains the belief that ‘tickets’ and ‘political parties’" are immature, leave the Student Association dysfunctional, and are ironically created by people who are opposed to a bi-party system. For people so interested in fighting power, they seem to dislike power that goes against them.”
The ASP reached out to both Senate Chair Erin McGrath and Senate Vice Chair Sarah Jamil for Hepp’s explanation. Vice Chairwoman Jamil said Hepp did not elaborate on her decision to resign.
The Senate also saw its first appropriations bill for the academic year. Five student organizations asked for funding: Mock Trial, the UAlbany Spanish Club, Middle Earth, UAlbany Swim Club, and the Model European Union.
Mock Trial, which asked for $3,000 in supplemental funds to host meets and hotel expenses for them, food expenses, and a team dinner. The bill passed with 21 yes votes, one no vote, and eight abstentions. Vice Chairwoman Jamil, Senators Joleen Chen, Andrew Ong-Garcia, Emma Rennard, and Gabriel Kitt all abstained as members of the club. Senators Loreti, Dylan Klein, and Jalen Miller also abstained.
The UAlbany Spanish Club submitted a new and unfunded budget request of $268 for food and stickers. The bill passed with 28 “yes” votes and an abstention from Vice Chairwoman Jamil.
Middle Earth, UAlbany’s peer assistance program also submitted a supplemental budget request for $2,935 for a whalen tent, Amazon purchases, bracelet strings, and ice cream from Sodexo. The bill passed with 30 “yes” votes.
Both Model EU and the UAlbany Swim Club submitted supplemental requests. Model EU requested $3,000 to help fund a trip to the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. The swim club requested $1,955 to help fund swim meets and hotel costs for them. Both bills passed with 29 “yes” votes.
Special elections began for SA and are open until Wednesday, Oct. 18. There are four senate positions open, a Freedom apartment senator, a Liberty Terrace senator, an International Student senator, and a Senator-at-Large.