We have often thought about the proliferation of student protests in the 1960s and how pervasive the culture of civil disobedience was during the time of the Vietnam War. Are students in this day and age less politically active than previous generations? Why do we not see outpourings of protest on this campus of the scale that used to be the norm? Rarely in our time at Conn have we seen almost unanimous student uproar about any given injustice barring only the Fishbowl controversy. On Wednesday February 25th, in the aftermath of an ironically timed event called the Jerusalem Food Tour celebrating shared humanity, we found our outrage. We discovered information that put my apathy to rest; it made us sick. It came to our knowledge that Andrew Pessin wrote on his Facebook page a rant on the nature of Palestinians. Professor Pessin compared Gazan Palestinians to “rabid pit bulls” who need to be caged. He described the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a cycle of letting the “snarling dogs” out of their “cage” and then beating them back into it. One person named Nicole commented on the post suggesting the “dogs” be put down. Professor Pessin responded, “I agree.” Professor Pessin directly condoned the extermination of a people. A member of our community has called for the systematic abuse, killing, and hate of another people. This post came to the attention of students as well as faculty members and has thus far only been spoken of privately. It is clear that the imagery used is not only incredibly offensive, but also particularly damaging within the culture of Islam, which has a potent conceptualization of dogs. We vehemently believe that this deserves the attention of the Conn community: students, staff, and alumni.
What does this statement made by a faculty representative of our school say when our College is in the process of hiring a Dean of Inclusive Excellence? How can we stay true to our ideals as a college that prides itself so much on our inclusive learning community? We must ask ourselves, what kind of community do we want to be? According to a noted scholar of the Rwandan genocide, James Waller, “dehumanizing victims removes normal moral constraints against aggression.” We all know that it is through dehumanizing language that hate crimes begin. We call upon students, faculty, and alumni to ask themselves: Is there a place for this language at Connecticut College? We wonder ourselves how this particular situation would play out had this Professor spoken out against Jews or LGBTQ individuals. We believe that if Professor Pessin made these comments about women, African Americans, Jews, LGBTQ individuals or any other underrepresented group this issue would have reached our ears earlier and he would have been dealt with swiftly. This is not about the beliefs of Professor Pessin regarding Israel or Palestine; this is about hate speech.
Based on an ancient Athenian oath of citizenship, Connecticut College’s Honor Code states:
“We will never, by any selfish or other unworthy act, dishonor this our College; individually and collectively we will foster her ideals and do our utmost to instill a respect in those among us who fail in their responsibility; unceasingly we will strive to quicken a general realization of our common duty and obligation to our College. And thus in manifold service we will render our Alma Mater greater, worthier, and more beautiful.”
We invite students, faculty, and alumni to ask themselves: Are the statements of this professor in tune with the ideals of the honor code? We as students are bound by this honor code and are expected to uphold it within the external community as much as we are expected to uphold it on our campus. If a student said these words what could we expect as a response? Are professors not bound by the same moral standards of the honor code? Should we expect more from them as leaders of this institution?
We humbly address President Bergeron. We humbly address Dean Van Slyck, Dean Denard, Dean Arcelus, Dean Zimmer, Dean Highbaugh, Dean Garcia and the Board of Trustees. We call for a conversation; cancel classes, events, and athletics on one day. This must be addressed. The administration cannot keep silent over such disgusting hate speech. We Implore a response and for the Administration to take action. Years ago before we were students here the former president cancelled all events one day in the wake of a racist hate crime on campus and established an open mic discussion in Palmer that stopped the College in its tracks. This event is deserving of the same attention and we must have a discussion as a campus regarding what the shared values of this College ought to be. Be angry, talk to your professors, start the conversation. This outrage should not be a private matter, this must be public and we must re-evaluate what we think our values are as students, faculty, and alumni of this college. Students need this, staff needs this, we need to lament, we need context, and we need a thoughtful discussion. This is a red line, one that has been crossed. How we proceed now is up for debate. •