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Student Association passes Senate Resolution 14, affirms support for ‘Faculty Statement of Solidarity with Palestinians’

By Riya Misra     1/9/24 10:43pm

The Student Association passed a resolution affirming support for the Oct. 27 Rice University Faculty Statement of Solidarity with Palestinians. The resolution, which was introduced at the Nov. 27 Senate and voted on at the Dec. 4 Senate, passed with 16 votes in favor, five votes against and four abstentions, exceeding the two-thirds requirement to pass.

The resolution stipulates that the Student Association sign onto the Faculty Statement, which was released in part to express disagreement with Rice’s “uneven response to the ongoing violence in Israel/Palestine,” the authors wrote in the Faculty Statement. The Faculty Statement has been signed by hundreds of faculty, students, staff, alumni and community members.

The resolution also says the Student Association will issue a statement reaffirming support for “all Rice students, particularly pro-Palestinian students who feel marginalized and unsafe” and for Palestinian, Muslim and Arab students, “[recognizing] their unique struggles in light of geopolitical events.”

“Nowhere in the resolution does it ask the [Student Association] to actively discriminate against or exclude any one group of students,” the Lovett College President, who introduced the resolution, said at the Dec. 4 Senate, according to the minutes approved Jan. 8. “The resolution explicitly says instead to reaffirm support for students who have felt as though they have not received it from the administration by signing the Faculty Statement.” 

“The Faculty Statement explains the historical nuance of the issue from scholars who have studied the subject for their entire lives … It explains that [Rice President Reggie DesRoches’] message was interpreted as being asymmetrical by many students, many of whom are represented here today, and the importance of an equal application of the culture of care in our words and action,” they continued.

The Senate resolution calls upon the Office of the President to respond to the Faculty Statement’s requests, including releasing statements “denouncing violence and violations of international law against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel” and “affirming and defending academic freedom, especially for those who express support for Palestinian liberation.” 

The resolution also calls for the Office of the President to “affirm its commitment to a culture of care for our Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim student body, faculty, staff, and community” and to “facilitate access to affordable counseling resources with professionals who are trained to provide care that addresses the impact of domestic and international forms of structural violence.” 

In a Dec. 6 statement to the Thresher, DesRoches said acts of hate and hate speech are “strongly denounced and will not be tolerated” at Rice, particularly “antisemitism, anti-Palestinian rhetoric or Islamophobia.”

“In my message to the campus community on Nov. 3, I address the death and destruction both Palestinians and Israelis have endured and the grief and pain they are feeling as the conflict continues,” DesRoches wrote. “The message also stresses our priority to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the entire Rice community while honoring our commitment to freedom of speech and expression and allowing a supportive space for gatherings during this difficult time.

“To ensure we are properly addressing the concerns of our community and offering support to promote dialogue and understanding, the provost and I are in the process of forming an advisory group of faculty who have expertise in the Middle East, Jewish Islamic and religious studies to chart out how we can have a campuswide discussion about the conflict, its history and the complexities as the region seeks a path forward. These conversations are very important to me and our campus leadership,” DesRoches added.

The Dec. 4 Senate was held as a special session to continue the discussion of S.RES 14, which was introduced at the prior Senate. Attendance was limited to Rice undergraduates to “ensure that the Senate can adequately gauge student opinion,” Student Association President Solomon Ni wrote in an email to the Student Association Public Notice listserv. Non-undergraduates were able to attend via a Zoom livestream. 

Ni said around 200 people attended Senate virtually or in-person in the Kyle Morrow Room, which reached fire capacity. There was standing room only, Ni said, and students waited outside the room while watching the Zoom livestream. Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman and Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alexander Byrd attended in person.

Senate lasted just shy of two hours, with over a dozen students taking turns speaking in favor of and against the resolution. This followed a period of student discussion at the Nov. 27 Senate.

“Student government, many detractors say to this resolution, must not be involved in such a political issue,” Zain Rahman, the Brown College New Student Representative said Dec. 4, according to the minutes. “Well, I say when our administration makes a statement favoring one side or the other as it did, as President DesRoches’s statement did, it is crucial that the student government is now involved.”

“I appreciate our student leaders and their independence to lead and address concerns,” DesRoches wrote. “The fear, pain and loss among many of our students is palpable, especially after seeing countless reports of thousands of innocent lives lost in Gaza and the attacks in Israel. It’s important all of our students feel safe and heard at this time.”

[01/09/2024 9:45 p.m.] This article was updated with quotes from the approved Senate minutes.

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