The Creation of a Diversity Committee after conflict between John Jay organizations
By Jenifer Valmon
On Oct. 21, President Jeremy Travis of John Jay College for Criminal Justice sent two emails addressing the John Jay staff and student body. The first email was sent at 1:44 p.m., detailing the revitalization of John Jay’s Committee on Diversity. The second email sent at 5:36 p.m. expressed the president’s disappointment at hearing that some of the college’s Jewish students have felt intimidated on campus.
These two emails came at the heel of the “die-in” vigil hosted by the campus’ Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), on Oct. 8.
“At John Jay College, we stand firm in our commitment to ensuring that every member of our College community feels welcomed and engaged in our justice-centered mission. Together, we will continue to make certain that our students can learn and enjoy campus life in a respectful and supportive environment,” stated President Travis in his second email.
Though it may seem that the John Jay Diversity Committee’s creation is an effect of the complaints of the Hillel Club, Kenneth Holmes, dean of students, confirms that the committee has been forming since the 2014 spring semester.
As previously reported, SJP’s event was held on the first floor of the New Building. The protest aimed for shock value by having people under blankets posed as dead bodies. The event was intended to bring awareness to the conflicts in Palestine as well as the civil conflicts in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown’s shooting and death by a white police officer.
Though the event was meant to draw attention to issues, it instead sparked new ones.
“I found it very disturbing. It’s a disgrace to my religion because they don’t know the facts. They shouldn’t be saying the Israelis are the one’s who are killing,” said Margarita Okun, 29, a senior at John Jay.
The Hillel club at John Jay attended the event in silent protest of the SJP’s views and accusations. They attended peacefully “not as a counter but to create a two-sided environment,” said Yael Monselise, president of the Hillel club.
A video posted on YouTube five days after the event, Oct. 13, by Tomer Kornfeld, vice president of the Hillel Club, depicted the members of SJP as “hate mongering” and being misinformed about the Palestinian and Israeli states.
“On Oct. 8th, 2014, the SJP club at John Jay College held a die-in, which was supposed to be their call for “peace” and action, in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Well, here is a recap of some of their points,” read the video’s description.
The video listed different instances in the event in which the Pro Israel Movement believes SJP misconstrued facts or had incorrect information. The video shows a protester claiming that people are dying when we shop at Zionist companies such as Starbucks and Victoria Secret and she expressed her support for Palestinian resistance including Hamas.
The president of SJP, Susie Abdelghafar, stated in a previous article “we are not against Jewish people. We are against Zionist. But to fight for peace is hypocritical. We fight for justice,” in regards to SJP’s view on the conflict in Palestine.
“Timing was perfect in the sense that the diversity committee was in the works long before that event took place. I certainly don’t think it’s bad thing that they came out simultaneously,” said Holmes. “I chuckled… Putting together a committee like this and coming up with a charge it takes a lot longer. We started having the conversation before the spring semester ended.”
The new committee’s goal is to figure out what are the issues that need to be addressed on campus such as gender equality and disabilities as well as how to diversify staff and the college’s curriculum.
Holmes has been dean of students since July 2012. President Travis appointed him to Chair of the College Committee on Diversity alongside 25 others including staff members such as Danielle Officer, Sylvia Maltabaum, and a number of students to represent the different areas of the campus’ population.
On Oct. 27, the Hillel Club hosted an event of their own. The event was held in the same place as the “die-in” vigil but had a different approach. The club played pop music while handing out chips and hummus as well as sunglasses and iPhone cases. They also had several large informational posters displaying facts about Israel.
“What we want is peace and coexistence. We are pro peace and pro Palestine but against Hamas. There can be a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli state,” said Monselise.
The committee has created the “Justice for All” events aimed at exploring what justice means to John Jay students and to provide continual education for the community. The first event on Nov. 19 is a panel discussing hurtful versus hateful language and how the use of language can affect others.
This event is followed by social media photo-ops, giving the students a chance to express what “Justice for All” means to them. The justice for all events end with the screenings of “Enough is ENOUGH!: The Death of Jonny Gammage” and the award winning movie “Fruitvale Station.”