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Freedom is a journey we take together


There are days when it’s challenging to figure out where to begin. This is one of them.

I will begin by celebrating the UIC students who received WLRC Tuition Awards. This is a highlight of the Fall semester. We will be announcing the award recipients over the next few weeks. Each year, the students share their stories about the challenges and obstacles they have to face and overcome in order to complete a university education. They are caregivers, whether as parents raising their own children or helping to take care of their siblings and parents. They are immigrants, whether documented or undocumented. They work in a variety of jobs for long hours and commute to campus and yet find time to be involved in campus activities. They do well academically but wonder how much more they will be asked to bear in order to cross the finish line. The WLRC Tuition Award acknowledges all of these struggles that women students at UIC face and celebrates the students for continuing to push forward towards their goals.

Against silence

This has been an exceedingly difficult few weeks for all of us who love justice. If you have been working and advocating for Palestinian freedom in the various corners of your lives, then rage, disappointment, fear, and disgust are in competition with the deep love for Palestinian people whom we are watching being slaughtered by the thousands in real time. The unbalanced media coverage forces us to watch gigantic plumes of smoke and ash rising from the rubble under which children and loved ones are buried. The bombs are probably made in the U.S. The destruction is being paid for, in part, with U.S. taxpayer dollars.

The loudness of the bombings in Gaza is only paralleled by an equally loud silence that shrouds this and other universities right now, where people feel afraid to express their views about Israel and its occupation and repression of Palestine. What is a university if not a place where we can reasonably expect to ask difficult questions about the way the world is organized; hold up and scrutinize the evidence of things as they are; give names to structures, processes, and practices; and offer propositions about what the way forward should be? At a university that champions social justice, students have come to expect that such conversations will happen at UIC. And yet, to hear students tell it, we have not been doing so well at any of these things concerning the current war against Palestine. The university’s pro-Israel stance has sought to define the parameters within which we should be having any conversation on campus. Silence—whether in the refusal to speak, shutting down of others when they try to speak, discouragement of speech, or denying that there is anything to be said—seems to be the strategy of choice.

Our students are feeling the weight of this silence. They are talking among themselves about the “heavy air” inside their classes, the difficulty in feeling safe on campus, how uncomfortable they feel, and the impact on their mental health and wellbeing. As the situation unfolds, students have been craving opportunities to better understand what is happening, to have their questions answered, to learn how they can work in solidarity with others, and to figure out how the history of Palestinian struggle is connected to other struggles they are invested in. They deserve better than silence.

Moving against silence takes collective effort.

Many faculty, staff, and students have crafted impressive statements that raise awareness about the problem of presenting a one-sided, ahistorical narrative about Israel’s oppressive relationship to Palestine. The statements call on the university to show that it values and cares for Palestinian students. UIC has the largest population of Palestinian students in the country. There is also a call for support of the new Global Middle East Studies minor. I encourage you to read the statements.

On Tuesday evening, several campus units, including the cultural centers, cosponsored a faculty-led teach-in, “Cease Fire Now! Settler Colonialism, Palestinian Liberation and Solidarity.” Speakers included faculty members Rana Barakat, Associate Professor of History at Birzeit University, a public university in the West Bank, and Haidar Eid, Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at al-Aqsa University in Gaza. Prof. Eid offered a chilling account of the multiple displacements of Gazans and the killing of people who were seeking to escape the violence. Prof. Barakat reminded us that we need to harness the “collective rage and love” towards freedom. This was a unique moment for UIC students; they got to hear the voices and perspectives of Palestinian faculty about the impact of the current military assaults on Gaza and the ways they resist the ongoing occupation.

Also presenting were UIC scholars whose expertise on Palestine is widely recognized. Prof. Nadine Naber of Gender & Women’s Studies and Global Asian Studies showed how all struggles are connected, highlighting linkages between Indigenous struggles and Palestinian struggles for land and sovereignty; highlighting the relationship of police shootings in Chicago to Israel’s exportation of surveillance, military training, and equipment; and bringing a reproductive justice lens by noting how the annihilation of Palestinian women and children is central to settler colonialism. Prof. Andy Clarno of Sociology and Black Studies talked about the significance of Gaza to Palestinians’ resistance to occupation, and named terms that are important to developing an informed analysis (e.g., Zionism, anti-semitism, settler-colonialism, slow death, open-air prison). Dr. Zeina Zaatari of the Arab American Cultural Center talked about the problem of silence and its effect on students, harassment and discrimination against Arab students, new government and organizational initiatives to target Palestinian students on campus, and efforts to collect stories of students’ experiences of this moment.

Resources were shared with all who attended. A beautiful poster was distributed to attendees. Students lined up to ask questions and got the answers they needed. They learned how to push back against misinformation, to resist false binaries of “Palestinian vs. Jewish people,” that there is a history of anti-Zionist Jewish resistance, and how to respond to the myths used to support settler-colonialism. I can’t do justice to an incredible afternoon of learning, sharing, and building or renewing relationships of solidarity. That’s the kind of education and leadership needed on campus right now. I am thankful to all who mobilized to make it happen, and all who came out to witness and to learn together.

Native American Heritage Month

As we enter Native American Heritage Month, it’s not difficult to see the connection between Palestinian struggles against colonization and Indigenous struggles for sovereignty in the history and present of Turtle Island (Indigenous term for North America). Whether we are talking about access to water or ability to protect children and families, these are shared struggles that call for us to recognize the common visions of freedom that are being articulated in both places.

Moving beyond land acknowledgments, we—that includes WLRC—need to act more deliberately in uplifting the work that Native American women are leading, and find ways to recognize the moments of joy and celebration that bring Native American women together. The center remains committed to sharing what resources we have towards that greater goal of supporting the success of Native American students who come to this institution.

Finally, it’s a good time to ask: what does self-care look like for all of us in this moment, when we are glued to our phones and televisions to get constant updates on the death counts and destruction? What can you do to give your brains a chance to reset and allow your heart to rest and recover from all the tragedies around us? I don’t have an easy answer for how we should do this. I just know that it’s important to do so. I can say that getting lost in the stitches—embroidery, knitting—has been very good for me lately. What are you doing to take care of yourself? Let us know.