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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Open letter from staff accuses Tulane of anti-Palestinian bias

Tulane’s Middle East and North African Studies introduces students to the “rich history, layered politics, diverse cultures, linguistic, and religious traditions of the Middle East and North Africa,” according to the Tulane website. (Sophia Galatioto)

In a letter sent to President Mike Fitts and the Tulane University community on March 15, members of a Tulane affinity group for Middle Eastern and North African, or MENA, staff and faculty voiced concerns of anti-Palestinian rhetoric and pro-Israel bias in campus programming. Over 100 Tulane community members signed the letter. 

The letter cited the cancellation of a Middle Eastern Perspectives panel as evidence of what it called “thinly-veiled contempt towards non-Israeli MENA people” on campus. The event, originally planned for March 6, was canceled on Feb. 29. 

The letter described the cancellation as a “recurring pattern” of bias in university events on the Israel-Hamas conflict. The letter mentioned the Palagye Program for Middle East Peace, a summer program studying peace in the Middle East based in Israel which it said “privileges an Israel perspective on the conflict.” 

School of Liberal Arts Dean Brian Edwards said the event was canceled after consultation with panelists concluded that the goals of the panel would be better met with “a series of events throughout the university … [which] various groups on campus are in the process of planning.” 

The letter also took issue with what it called imbalanced representation among the four panelists slated to speak at the event. According to the letter, three of the four panelists “primarily focus on Israel-related research and perspectives … [exposing] significant gaps in equity and diversity at Tulane and the SLA.” 

“We felt that it was important to make our voices heard in that Tulane wasn’t doing a good job in representing us in conversations that use our name and ethnicity,” Alex Jaouiche, a MENA affinity group member and program coordinator for the Violence Prevention Institute said. Jaouiche said she spoke as an individual in Tulane’s community and was not speaking on behalf of the Violence Prevention Institute. 

“It was important to put that out there,” Jaouiche said. “Because trying to cancel an event, sweep it under the carpet, without addressing the concerns that your staff and faculty have is not solving the issue.”

Slated panelist and political science professor Christina Kiel said the event was announced before the scheduled planning meeting. The planning meeting was also canceled a few days beforehand. “[That] is how I learned the event would not take place,” Kiel said. 

The letter accused Tulane of obstructing other Palestinian and Arab academic events as well. Jaouiche said the Violence Prevention Institute planned to host an event called “Listening to Palestinians.” 

Jaouiche said that as a Tulane institution, the Violence Prevention Institute was not allowed to put their name on the event. The event took place without the backing of the Violence Prevention Institute. Instead, an interested student organization, Students Organizing Against Racism, hosted the event.

“It was in line with other programming that my work had done before,” Jaouiche said. “It felt like a clear bias towards one narrative.”

The letter ends with a call for Tulane to hold itself to its commitment to diversity and inclusion. The signees demand that Tulane “make efforts in recruitment and programming that are equitable and inclusive.”

“I want there to be more honest and open communication between upper level administration and the faculty and staff,” Jaouiche said. “There feels like there’s a very large disconnect between what people in the Tulane community want to see and want to understand and what is currently being allowed on campus.” 

Staff Therapist, Training Coordinator, Zayd Sifri said he felt compelled to send the letter to Fitts given what he views as a genocide in Palestine. “This is in peoples’ hearts very acutely,” said Sifri, who is also a member of MENA Faculty and Staff Affinity Group. Sifri also said he was not speaking on behalf of the Counseling Center. 

Edwards encouraged students to take advantage of “a range of courses and educational programs” in the MENA program and Department of Jewish Studies. The MENA program currently lists 10 courses available in the fall. 

President Fitts and Tulane did not respond to a request for comment. According to Sifri, no one has responded to the letter directly.

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