Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Regression on a progressive campus

Have an open mind

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

By Aliza Yaillen, Collegian Contributor

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“Progressive.” What does that word really mean? Does it mean knowing all the recent buzz words? Being liberal? Being forward-thinking? On this campus, I am sad to say, “progressive” is a word that I, as of recently, have come to associate with intolerance.

I am currently a second semester senior finishing up my time on this campus. I am a Resident Assistant, a tour guide, a tutor at the writing center, a research assistant for a project to create educational AppBooks for student detainees in the juvenile justice system, a member of the UMass Democrats, an animal science and English dual-degree student and a very active member of the Hillel community. In other words, I wear many hats on this campus and until recently, I considered myself very lucky to be part of the University of Massachusetts community.

While I am originally from New York City, I quickly felt accepted and safe here. I loved how “wicked crunchy” the campus was, and I thought I also loved how progressive it was. So many students on this campus are invested in changing the world in one way or another, whether that is through obtaining more compost bins around campus, retrieving leftover food from dining halls to give to local food pantries or just being passionate about their ideals. It inspired me to want to be as passionate as they all were. But this feeling of inspiration, acceptance and safety I felt on campus has changed recently.

This past week, the Student Government Association held elections for the next year’s president, vice president and student trustee. Elections are always tricky and can result in heated debates, lost friends, fights with family or hurtful words. This happened in the most recent SGA election when a candidate, who is a member of my Hillel community, was implied as being Islamophobic in an email and post sent and distributed to students around campus. The worst part, besides the hurtful nature of the comment, was the fact that it was completely false.

I am very fortunate that my time at UMass has been characterized by positive interactions surrounding my faith and religion. Even though I was the first Jew who many of my friends had ever met, none of them asked about stereotypes. Rather, they wanted to learn about my religion. This was the part of UMass I fell in love with. What I have not fallen in love with, however, are the other questions I have been asked as a Jewish student on this campus: “You’re Jewish? Are you pro-Israel?” When I respond yes, people typically say, “So you voted for Trump.” (Which, by the way, I did not, if that was not obvious by the fact that I am a member of UMass Democrats.) My other friends have been told, “You are pro-life then,” after stating that they are pro-Israel, which is also not necessarily true.

This is where the idea of “progressive” on our campus becomes problematic. Somehow, the idea of being progressive has become synonymous with both assuming you know other people’s positions, and not being able to listen to other opinions. Our campus, our administration (which came up with the idea for “Hate has No Home at UMass”) and our student body has fallen short when it comes to teaching each other how to listen and be tolerant of one another. As an RA on this campus, I have come in contact with students who are Republicans and feel uncomfortable sharing that information with people, just as I have begun to feel uncomfortable sharing with people that I am a Zionist. The word “Republican” has become synonymous with Trump, but not every Republican voted for Trump. And while I might not agree with those who did in fact vote for Trump, that does not mean that they should feel ostracized on this campus. In that same vein, as a Zionist, I would like to think that anyone you speak with who knows me would be able to tell you that I am not an Islamophobic, racist or homophobic person. But, while spending time on this campus, I have realized that the word “Zionist” has become synonymous with the above words in the “progressive community,” which means that when I tell people that I am a Zionist, they might assume that I am all of those things before even getting to know me.

What I hope people start learning from their college experience at UMass is how to listen — that’s where we need to restart the conversation. False accusations, calling people “killers” or “racists,” is just as wrong as the actions of those who are guilty of those things. Keeping an open mind and really having our facts straight, just like we do in our essays we write for class or the research projects we pull all-nighters to get good grades on, is what we have to start doing with our opinions. Having debates and talking to people who have different opinions than us is actually what makes us more interesting people. Being a member of a particular group or political party does not negate one’s right to be respected and be an equal participant in all facets of campus life. If we go back to when this campus was open to discussing different opinions and made more people feel comfortable, maybe we could start proudly calling ourselves a progressive campus again.

Aliza Yaillen is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]


13 Responses to “Regression on a progressive campus”

  1. R on March 1st, 2018 2:20 am

    i feel you. the left has kept anti-semitism politically viable under the guise of anti-Israelism/’anti-Zionism’, long enough for the worst parts of the right to take it up full-throated again.

  2. Clara on March 1st, 2018 9:56 pm

    R, Antisemitism and anti-Zionism do not go hand-in-hand, though some people use the latter as a way to channel their antisemitism. There is valid critique of anti-Zionism and not everyone who is against Zionism hates Jews.

    It’s funny that you blame the left for the increasing anti-Semitic incidents occurring in the U.S., when it is the alt-right who promulgate antisemitism. This doesn’t mean the left is not culpable, but the malicious intent is not there.

    Aliza, this was an interesting article. I agree that some progressives on this campus too far and are quick to attack those with whom they disagree, even if it’s only one issue. It is time for people to be more accepting of differing political views, and to dismiss stereotypes regarding one’s political affiliations.

  3. R on March 6th, 2018 11:48 pm

    why does intent matter? like i could dissect your intent in putting words in my mouth, but it wouldn’t get us far. no, i’m saying left and right-wing antisemitism are convergent and complementary. the left all too often talks vaguely about shadowy elites (“the 1%”) and is obsessed with bashing Israel…the far-right only makes the subtext explicit. whether or not it’s “intentional” (again, so what?), the effects go hand in hand. i have been watching the alt-right carefully and you might be surprised how many of those d*cks came through some kind of left wing activism. there is often a shift from leftist clueless populism to deliberate right-wing entryist code words (“international bankers”, “the Israel lobby” etc) to full-on Elders of Zion style conspiracism which is at the core of alt-right ideology.

    no not everyone who is against Zionism hates Jews. but consider that what Zionism is at basis is the idea that Jews should live in an ancestral homeland…full stop…no state required. how we got from there to here is a long story but the left has chosen to apply its own definition, one which ignores Jewish history pre-1948, absolves all the features of millennia of antisemitism from European societies and applies it to Israeli Jews. it is the same age-old scapegoating still in effect.

  4. Sitting Bull on March 1st, 2018 2:54 pm

    Thinking people are (or should be) more nuanced than the political “boxes” to which people today confine themselves. Extremists, be they “progressive” or “conservative” have been firmly in control of Congress for some time. Extremists are always bad. And those that cloak themselves in “progressivism” which explicitly claims the moral high ground on all issues, are no better than the ultra right wingers that are always skewered in the press. Progressives are only tolerant IF you agree with everything they stand for. It is the pot calling the kettle black.

    Somehow, there needs to be some restoration of balance where the society can progress forward from its obvious faults. But the “progressives” want it all torn down for the sake of it, eschewing the many aspects of this society that led to its greatness (which is sadly in decline). The real issue is control, of course, which is nothing new. Due to human nature, progressivism – should it ever achieve its aim, will not be the utopia it promises. There is no utopia. It simply will shift the culture toward the people who follow it, and advantage that group. It will NOT level the playing field rather than alter it entirely, with a new set of “winners” and “losers.”

    The society has changed, perhaps irreparably so. The ultra conservatives won’t get their white bread post war utopia back, and hopefully the progressives won’t achieve their nefarious goals either. Somewhere in between there must lie an answer where a multicultural civil society can emerge with the least amount of harm to what makes America great in the first place. Good luck on getting anyone to agree on how to achieve that – not that the progressives are interested in that anyway.

  5. Zev Benjamin on March 1st, 2018 4:16 pm

    I’d say that being a Zionist isn’t progressive. You can support the right of Israel to exist without being Zionist, coming from an anti-Zionist Jewish family I know that. Zionism at core is tied to some pretty toxic trends from European colonialism, it’s not a part of Jewish identity, historically and it’s just not healthy.

  6. NITZAKHON on March 5th, 2018 9:43 am

    A people returning to their home is “colonialism”?

    The majority of the Arabs there are descendants of people who came in to fill jobs the Zionists created.

  7. R on March 6th, 2018 11:53 pm

    “You can support the right of Israel to exist without being Zionist” i don’t think this is true at all, in fact i would say exactly the opposite. i’m sorry you know so little about our people’s history that you think the desire to be a “free people in our own land” isn’t a very enduring part of it. i would actually argue that in its roots it’s in many ways an earth-based, tribal lifeway like many indigenous cultures. maybe this Pesach you can get a history lesson…you are right that there is a big connection with colonialism but let’s not forget that European colonialism was in many ways the exportation of ethno-religious violence that had first been practiced within Europe against Jews, Roma and Muslims, by nation-states built through ethnic cleansing – consider that 1492 was also the year of the great expulsion from Spain…

  8. Ayelet Ehrenkranz on March 1st, 2018 6:04 pm

    accurate. liberalism should be accepting of more than only what it agrees with. Nicely written!!

  9. John aimo on March 3rd, 2018 10:35 pm

    Progressives/liberal/left is political, its about politics. Of course they aren’t open minded, that’s the nature of politics, you take one side and your against the other side .Of course they say things like we are open minded, so that people join their cause.

    Of course they are anti-Israel because they are pro-muslim and as part of their belief system is that Palestine is oppressed by Israel. Alizia is foolish and if there is anyone to blame it’s himself for a total lack of critical thinking.

    Anyone who looks at liberals/left/progressives can see how hypocritical and contradictory their beliefs are and anyone who examines politics should understand that those who promote a political view are going to use lies, half-truths, persuasion, appeal and otherwise to get people to join their cause and of course they are going to use tactics to shame/censor and shut down their political opponents like calling them racist or killers.

    This will always work because of people like Alizia who are unable to think for themselves.

  10. a friend on March 6th, 2018 12:55 pm

    Hey Aliza,

    I have nothing but respect for the thoughtfully-presented and carefully self-reflective examination that you’ve presented here. This process of critically considering your own positions as well as those of the communities you’re immersed in is one that everyone should do more of, and I applaud the way you model that kind of thinking here. Furthermore, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head by identifying some of the echo-chamber, confirmation-biased, and egocentric thinking that has become rampant in New England neoliberal identity politics, and nowhere more prevalent than in the Pioneer Valley.

    That said, I have a couple of considerations to add to your already-nuanced way of thinking:

    -I want to disagree a bit with your working definition of what progressive SHOULD mean. You seem to have an understanding of “progressive” as being synonymous with “tolerant,” which has never been the case for actual progressivism politics. What progressivism is meant to represent, in fact, is bold and direct INTOLERANCE and rejection of oppression, harmful ways of thinking, white supremacy, sexism, and bigotry. Progressivism has become to be SEEN as synonymous with “ultra-tolerance” BECAUSE in the 60s and beyond, identifying with and supporting people of color or queer people has MEANT being tolerant of non-mainstream identities. So it became an acceptable caricature of progressive politics to say “well you’re SUPPOSED to be tolerant of everyone, snowflake!” Nowhere in progressive politics has it ever been said that we should be tolerant of hatred and oppression. It is perfectly in line with progressive politics to want to fight for a campus where Trump supporters feel ostracized, because Trump represents a unilateral rejection of anything resembling progressive politics.

    -Your arguments seem to suggest a desire to identify with certain viewpoints without a full understanding of the ideological or linguistic baggage implied by their labels. You want to have Republican friends who can feel safe by ignoring the deadly history of the Republican party; you want to self-claim the Zionist label and not have to defend the historically loaded colonialist politics that have been carried out in the name of Zionism; you want to have Trump supporters feel safe surrounded by people of color, women, and queer people whom their vote and their support is a direct and ongoing dehumanizing political action.

    As a tutor in the Writing Center, you’re well aware of the ideological power of words and labels: to self-identify as a Zionist is to take on a loaded historical term that does have colonialist and white supremacist undertones (specifically in the political landscape regarding HOW the state of Israel was founded; not in the right of it to exist or not); a label that does require a degree of explanation in order to not be grouped in with its own baggage. Similarly, someone who is openly able to self-identify as a Republican (especially on a college campus) does have a degree of self-implied onus placed on them in order to explain why their identity isn’t based on cognitive dissonance (a university is meant to foster critical thinking, a standpoint that Republican politics openly rejects) and the acceptance of the vast ideological oppression that the Republican party openly stands for. Sometimes, adopting a label is going to mean having to defend or justify that label, especially when that label has easy associations with hatred and oppression.

    -Here’s a bit of a subjective take: I do not believe all viewpoints are created equal. By spending time and energy taking radical viewpoints (i.e., supporting Trump) as seriously as our own thoughtful, educated ones, we’re validating those viewpoints as being on inherently equal footing to our own. Progressive politics has not made its accomplishments (see the Civil Rights Movement) by sitting down and trying to “talk it out” with racists and sexists. Having an open mind does not mean having an onus to listen to every viewpoint we hear and consider it thoughtfully.

    Again, thanks for your honesty and thoughtfulness, and I hope you keep thinking about these complex and difficult issues.

  11. R on March 7th, 2018 12:03 am

    you think Zionism is white supremacist? again a great example of anti-Zionism’s erasure of pre-1948 Jewish history. here’s a thought for you, assuming you have some engagement with critical race studies: whiteness, not an ethnicity, not even really a skin color, where European ethnicities went to disappear – American whiteness that is, is all about normalcy. white is ‘default’, like blank. white privilege is all about not having to think about your race or ways in which you’re racialized by histories and systems of violence. it means not having to inherit millennia of massive racial trauma. it means being able to deny people’s intergenerational trauma and racialize them as you see fit, erasing their history to fit your framework. this traumatizing violence was perpetrated against Jews for thousands of years by people whose descendants are now, you know , ‘normal’ white people. it didn’t end in 1945 (which was in living memory for many of our families), it paused… even now there are literal lynch mobs and terrorist cells throughout this country of white supremacists who would like to murder me because of my race. too bad they don’t have you there to explain to them that i am really just exactly like them…! moreover by treating antisemitism as simply ‘a racism’ you are erasing the very important point that it is actually an all-encompassing conspiracy theory and the glue that holds fascist ideologies together, as well as something that the left, self-aware or not, seems to get an awful lot of mileage out of with its ceaseless Israel bashing, at times using the same tropes, i.e. the sinister Israel lobby whereby a tiny group of genocide survivors is somehow manipulating the most powerful state on earth to their own sinester ends…

  12. Food For Thought on March 6th, 2018 2:08 pm

    This is what happens when you control the terms of the argument: you obscure the actual issue taken by those you argue against. Zionism in practice today is colonialist–violently enforced occupation of land that was originally taken from the Palestinians by the British. It isn’t hateful to suggest that such an occupation is wrong. If you’re a Zionist, then you are colluding in Israeli colonialism. You can’t cherry pick the definition of the word from its real world meaning.

    A progressive campus should challenge views that are complicit in the violent occupation of any people. The United States is a product of violent colonialism, for example. A regressive campus looks at colonialism anywhere and calls critiques of it “intolerance.” I’m sure the Palestinian people don’t tolerate having their land stolen and their friends and families murdered by colonizers. Indigenous people in this country certainly aren’t grateful for all the violence inflicted upon them.

  13. R on March 7th, 2018 12:08 am

    “You can’t cherry pick the definition of the word from its real world meaning” that is exactly what you’re doing. i know you all really like these all-or-nothing binaries about who is evil and who is good because then you get to pick which side you’re on and feel great about yourself, but it betrays a total lack of understanding of the history of the situation you’re talking about and total insensitivity to the multiple conflicting and overlapping forms of colonialism and racial violence that have been in play. you can understand violent resistance by poc groups when it’s cool with where leftist politics are at now, but not when it was Jews who survived the biggest genocide in history. everything is so obvious from where you sit and so clear who the heroes and villains are? i would ask you where you would have gone in 1945 if you were a survivor in Europe, if your whole family and community had been murdered, but again you seem really way too ignorant of that history (or anything but up to date lefty rhetoric) to even process the question. but i wish you would learn something about it and try to think about it from that side before you run around mindlessly spouting this “Zionism is colonialism! Israel is evil!” garbage, especially since you seem like someone who wouldn’t like to collude with the far-right, who are also trading heavily in anti-Jewish conspiracy theories these days.

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