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Faculty, students host vigil for scholars in Gaza

Camille Kao / Thresher

By Maria Morkas     2/27/24 11:08pm

Community members gathered in Ray’s Courtyard Feb. 26 for an event titled “Scholasticide is Genocide, a Vigil for our Colleagues in Gaza.”

Hosted by Scholars Against the War on Palestine and Rice Students for Justice in Palestine, the vigil honored “educators, scholars, medical professionals, researchers and students who have been killed in Israel’s genocidal campaign on Gaza,” according to an Instagram post from the two organizations.

Israel declared war on Hamas after approximately 1,200 people were killed in the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack. Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza in Israel’s military operations, and over 390 Gazan schools and universities have been destroyed, according to NPR.

Erica Augenstein, a graduate student in the history department, opened the vigil by asking gathered members to observe a moment of silence and to hold a candle throughout the event. 

“We must begin by recognizing [that] our books, our papers and our articles now contain missing references, that our conferences now contain missing persons and that there are worlds of knowledge that we will never recover,” Augenstein said.

Scholars and university administrators represent higher education in America, Augenstein added, and “are under an obligation to broadcast truth to the world.”

“The attack on educational systems in Gaza is a deliberate program which aims to stifle the regenerative power that education and knowledge production lends to the social fabric,” Augenstein said. “The effect of knowledge strikes at all facets of human community. 

“We ask what happens to a political, social and cultural entity, when those who know how to repair a human heart, whether they be a cardiologist or the heart surgeon, are gone?” Augenstein continued. “What happens to a society when it loses all its colleagues?”

Multiple faculty members and graduate and undergraduate students spoke at the event, sharing their own perspectives from their topics of study.

According to Abdel Razzaq Takriti, an associate professor of history and the Arab-American educational foundation chair in Arab studies who spoke at the vigil, scholasticide is “the systematic destruction of the educational life of an ethnic, national or religious group.”

“Scholars have identified at least 18 different features of scholasticide,” Takriti said in an interview with the Thresher after the event. “They include egregious acts like the killing of scholars, or the infliction of serious injury upon scholars or students. But they also include the destruction of facilities, their usage as military barracks, the prevention of access to education, the invasion of campuses, the looting of campuses. There’s many different aspects to it. 

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing all of them in Gaza today; all of the universities of Gaza have been destroyed. Hundreds of faculty members were killed, thousands of students were killed,” Takriti continued.

Augenstein said that there’s no separation between scholasticide and genocide.

“Think about all the education that brings someone from childhood into being a cardiologist or being an engineer or being a historian,” Augenstein told the Thresher after the vigil. “It’s decades and decades of training, it’s dozens and dozens of people. That network is being dismantled via the genocide … You degrade the medical training, degrade the people that know how to build buildings that don’t fall over, and all of those little things that we take for granted in a functioning society fall apart.”

Augenstein said in an interview that, as of now, faculty at Rice and other institutions across North America have “not been empowered to denounce the genocide” and “have not been particularly well-organized amongst themselves.” This vigil was meant to bring faculty together and make it easier for them to speak, according to Augenstein.

Takriti said in an interview that there is a “systematic assault on Palestinian faculty” in the U.S. and an attempt to “silence Palestinian voices, with a strong anti-Palestinian sentiment expressed in the hallways of power.”

“Most students in this country are committed to the principles of justice, freedom and equality. That’s been at least my experience at Rice,” Takriti said. “However, unfortunately, the political class in this country does not share the same values as the young people that live in it. This is what I would consider to be as a historian a ‘Vietnam moment,’ where there's a big difference between what’s happening on the student level, and what’s happening in the hallways of power in this country.”

A student leader of Rice Students for Justice in Palestine said that people must “reflect on the lives of the brave students in Gaza” who “despite grappling with unimaginable adversity … clung to their education with unwavering determination.” 

The student requested anonymity due to concerns of doxxing because of their position with Rice SJP.

“These students were not just statistics or casualties of war, they were individuals with hopes, fears and visions for a better future,” the Rice SJP leader said in their speech. “These students represent the very essence of courage and resilience, and they are the martyrs of our generation. Their untold stories and unrealized dreams serve as poignant reminders of the immense human toll exacted by this genocide.”

The Rice SJP organizer continued by calling for “condemnation from those who claim to champion education and enlightenment.”

“How can we claim to stand for spaces of learning and knowledge when we fail to denounce acts of violence that directly target schools and scholars?” the Rice SJP leader said. “How can Rice stand as a top research institution while they’re silent as some of the world’s top contributors to countless research fields are deliberately slaughtered? The integrity of our university is called into question when it remains complicit through its silence.”

The vigil ended with a recitation of “State of Siege” by Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet and author, in both Arabic and English.

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