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Pride was too hasty in cutting ties with Houston Hillel

By Thresher Editorial Board     9/27/23 10:24am

In an email last week, Rice Pride announced an end to its partnership with Houston Hillel, a Jewish campus organization that has hosted events with Pride since 2016. The statement pointed to the “Standards of Partnership” of Hillel International, the parent group of Houston Hillel, which Pride called exclusionary to Palestinian and Arab queer students.

Pride is right to discuss the needs of some of its most marginalized members. Palestinian and Arab queer students deserve to feel safe and welcomed in Pride.

Pride was wrong, however, to so quickly end its partnership with Houston Hillel. It made this decision based on the values of Hillel International, with no clear grievances against activities at the Houston chapter. 

In fact, Pride did not attempt to have a discussion with Houston Hillel before its announcement. Pride claims to have spoken with student organizations such as Rice Students for Justice in Palestine and Judaism On Our Own Terms, but these are explicitly anti-Zionist groups that do not represent the wide spectrum of people who have a stake in this partnership — a particular point of worry given that Pride claims to represent the voices of all LGBTQ+ students on campus, whether they are pro-Israel or pro-Palestine.

Most worrying is that Pride seemingly had little-to-no input from queer Jewish students at Rice; had the organization spoken with more Jewish people, it would not have made its announcement during the High Holy Days — especially the afternoon after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year — and would have anticipated the attention this decision has received.

Pride should have met with Houston Hillel to relay its concerns with Hillel International’s platform. Houston Hillel was the first queer-affirming religious group on campus and has hosted a dozen events with Pride about the challenging intersection between queerness and religion. Kenny Weiss, the executive director of Houston Hillel, has even said that the operations of Houston Hillel no longer align completely with the cited “Standards of Partnership” for Hillel International — information Pride could have taken into account if dialogue with Hillel was opened sooner, or even at all. Pride and Houston Hillel could have tried to work together to devise ways to make all members feel included. The importance of an accepting and established space for studying and celebrating religion and queerness cannot be understated.

We also believe Pride should have encouraged more dialogue within the organization before making this decision. Many queer Jewish students felt blindsided, and rightfully so: A choice this complex should not be made exclusively by the leadership of a student affinity group. The very nature of intersectionality necessitates a wide discussion among people who hold different identities.

More broadly, this announcement brings into focus the way affinity organizations on campus make decisions regarding the diverse and intersectional identities of their members. These are incredibly complicated questions covering queerness, race, religion, violence, legacies of colonization and more. No affinity group executive board is prepared to fairly and wholly answer these questions — and none should try.

Because this issue is not black-and-white, Pride’s decision to cut ties with Houston Hillel should not have been either. To carve out a space that is welcoming to queer Jewish, Arab, Palestinian and other members, Rice Pride should have fostered dialogue and worked to build a solution for all. While the political and historical events that have shaped our identities may be beyond our control, the civil and all-encompassing discourse necessary to make difficult decisions is not.

Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Prayag Gordy, Riya Misra, Nayeli Shad, Brandon Chen, Sammy Baek, Sarah Knowlton, Hadley Medlock and Pavithr Goli. Features Editor Sarah Knowlton recused herself from this editorial due to her personal relationship with a member of Pride’s executive board.

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