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Rice community responds to DesRoches’ messaging on Israel and Gaza

By Maria Morkas     11/28/23 11:10pm

Multiple Rice faculty members released a “statement of solidarity” with Palestinians Oct. 27 later signed by members of the Rice community. The statement was written in response to President Reggie DesRoches’ “message of support” to the community Oct. 11, sent two days after an initial email about the “conflict in Israel and Gaza.”

In the faculty statement, the authors disagreed with the university’s “uneven response to the ongoing violence in Israel/Palestine.” 

The faculty statement asks the Rice administration to release a statement “denouncing violence and violations of international law against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, The West Bank and Israel,” support students “who feel unsafe and who are unsafe, especially without the support of Rice leadership” and defend “academic freedom, especially for those who express support for Palestinian liberation.”

It also asked for facilitated access to affordable counseling resources with trained professionals who can “provide care that addresses the impact of domestic and international forms of structural violence.”

A resolution titled “Affirming Support for the Faculty Statement of Solidarity with Palestine” was introduced and discussed at the Student Association meeting Nov. 27. Voting members chose to continue discussing this resolution at the Senate meeting Dec. 4.

The authors of the faculty statement declined to provide further comments and directed the Thresher to the statement.

In response to concerns raised by the faculty statement, Provost Amy Dittmar said she met with faculty members who organized the petition. She added that Rice leadership is meeting with student groups to “understand and address their needs.”

In a subsequent message to campus Nov. 4, DesRoches wrote about “ongoing safety and support” for the community.

In response to DesRoches, Rice Students for Justice in Palestine released a statement via Instagram Nov. 5. Rice SJP reiterated their demands in another Instagram statement Nov. 26, the day after three Palestinian college students were shot in Vermont in what is being investigated as a hate crime.

In the Nov. 5 message, Rice SJP wrote that it understands the “enhanced security posture” mentioned in DesRoches’ message to mean “monitor[ing] of colonized community members” and as “one rooted in islamophobia and xenophobia.”

DesRoches said one of his priorities is creating a supportive space for gatherings while ensuring everyone’s safety on campus.

“This includes working with outside law enforcement agencies, which is standard protocol for our campus police department and does not include any special surveillance or detection activities,” DesRoches wrote in an email to the Thresher.

Chief of Rice University Police Department Clemente Rodriguez said RUPD takes all reports of hate crimes seriously by investigating any complaints being made and working with local and federal law enforcement partners to track any threats to the community.

“In addition to investigating all complaints, RUPD has increased our visibility on campus as a security and deterrent to anyone who could disrupt events held by [the Middle Eastern and North African Student Association], SJP and Jewish student groups,” Rodriguez wrote. 

Rice SJP also wrote that the resources provided by the university to students are inaccessible and ineffective.

“The cited ‘specific, culturally sensitive resources’ are off-campus and are not aimed at the demographics impacted,” Rice SJP wrote. “ … We demand on-campus resources specific to Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestine students be made available.”

DesRoches said Rice has launched a collaboration with An-Nisa Hope Center, a non-profit that provides support, mental health care and educational programs, among other services, according to its website.

“An-Nisa has agreed to host a support group for our students at Rice, and the organization will have a trained advocate to provide immediate safety planning and referrals to An-Nisa’s Mental Health Department and the SAFE Office at Rice,” DesRoches wrote.

Assistant Director of Wellbeing Programs and Education Elisa Moralez said that the An-Nisa Hope Center and Houston Hillel have led several discussions around campus and have provided specialized clinical training to on-campus therapists and case managers in the Wellbeing and Counseling Center and the SAFE Office.

Rice SJP declined further comment and directed the Thresher to the organization’s statements.

Alums for Campus Fairness, an alumni organization whose stated mission is to “counter antisemitism,” also issued a statement and petition asking the university and DesRoches to “end university funding for all Rice-affiliated organizations that engage in, support or promote any antisemitic speech or conduct.”

In response, DesRoches said the safety and wellbeing of community members is a priority of his, and campus leadership has been “unequivocal in [their] denouncement of hate speech of any kind.” 

“To ensure we are properly addressing these concerns and offering support to promote dialogue, the provost and I are planning to meet with a group of faculty who have expertise in the Middle East and religious studies to discuss how we can have a campus-wide discussion about the conflict, its history and the complexities as the region seeks a path forward,” DesRoches wrote. 

Executive Director of Houston Hillel Kenny Weiss said there has been an increase in antisemitic rhetoric on campus which has made Jewish students feel uncomfortable at the university.

“I think that the most important thing that Rice University can do at this time is to adopt a definition of antisemitism,” Weiss said. “Without a definition of antisemitism, it is very challenging, if not impossible, to evaluate rhetoric and hate speech with regard to its antisemitic content.”

In conclusion, DesRoches said that the Rice administration is committed to doing the difficult work and will “keep the doors of responsible conversation open.”

“We will engage with the empathy and kindness for which we are known. And we will continue to navigate this unsettling time — together,” DesRoches wrote.

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