Third Letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block regarding Students for Justice in Palestine

This is my third letter addressed to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block. It is in response to the most recent wave of discriminatory and hateful posters plastered on and around UCLA’s campus. It has been nearly six months since I had sent my earlier two messages to the Chancellor, to which he has still not responded. Past messages are reproduced below in full.

UCLA Chancellor’s Office

Box 951405, 2147 Murphy Hall

Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405

16 November 2015

Dear Chancellor Block,

It is my genuine hope that this correspondence finds you well. It is most unfortunate that these correspondences have been a lonely endeavor for me as I have yet to hear anything back from you in nearly six months time. Regardless, your silence has garnered neither scorn nor reproach and I am hopeful that the proverb “third time’s a charm” holds true in this case.

I am writing to you today to bring to your attention the posters which have been plastered around UCLA’s campus this past week (November 11, 2015) in what appears to be a continuous cycle of discriminatory attacks on Students for Justice in Palestine. You may recall when these posters were first seen on campus several months, you wrote about it in your statement, “Holding Ourselves to a Higher Standard.” I was quite grateful for your response, but as you wrote “these incidents may occur again” and they indeed have–again, and again.

Ever since these posters made their way onto our campus and the campuses of many other institutions across the United States, student activists for Palestinian human rights have felt intimidated and silenced. Even you described the posters as “inflammatory” and said that “UCLA will not be defined by intolerance.” So, allow me to ask you: As of now, what direct actions are you taking regarding these posters? What is the appropriate response from the university?

I further would like to draw your attention to the penultimate paragraph of your most recent statement, “Moving Forward As A Community,”

We might never eradicate every vestige of bigotry, we cannot prevent every act of thoughtlessness and we cannot guarantee that no one will be ever be [sic] unfairly treated because of race, religion, gender identity, sexuality or other categories of difference. Indeed, even as Bruins came together in solidarity yesterday, Islamophobic posters appeared on campus, in complete disregard of our Principles of Community and the dignity of our Muslim students.

IMG_5232As despairing as you are, you are probably right about being unable to prevent every such act. However, I wanted to know why you did not mention the posters directed at Students for Justice in Palestine. From what I had seen, some posters made explicit mention of SJP, a secular organization. These posters relied not only on Islamophobic stereotypes but on traditional anti-Arab tropes to decorate an all-around false impression of what Palestinian activism is. I find it saddening that the only conclusions to draw from your message is that you do not understand the distinction or you intentionally omitted any mention of SJP.

Lastly, although my involvement in SJP at UCLA has increased, I continue to write these messages to you as an individual. As such, I am not asking for any specific actions to be taken as I believe this is something for the entire Students for Justice in Palestine community to discuss and decide. What I am seeking from you is transparency, answers, and serious effort in addressing this situation.

Respectfully,

Yacoub Kureh


This letter was mailed to Professor Gene Block, Chancellor of UCLA on 19 May 2015. My email to him on 18 April is reproduced in full below and is in reference to his email which is available here. I will post any updates on the matter in a separate entry.

UCLA Chancellor’s Office

Box 951405, 2147 Murphy Hall

Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405

19 May 2015

Dear Chancellor Block,

I trust that this missive finds you well.

It has been nearly a month since I sent you the following email to which you and your office have not replied:

“Dear Chancellor Block,

My name is Yacoub Kureh and I am a PhD student in the Mathematics department. I wanted to express my gratitude for your email regarding the posters attacking Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) members. I have been a Palestinian rights activist since my undergraduate career at Harvard and during my Masters at Cambridge, and never have I seen such inflammatory accusations made about a student group. It was important for the University administration to react swiftly and they did.

However, although I appreciate and respect your response, I find that it was insufficient as evidenced by the second wave of posters attacking SJP placed around campus and the defacement of the SJP board that is left on Bruin Walk along with many other boards that were not affected. This clear targeting of a campus organization is dangerous and needs to be addressed more seriously than can be done with a simple email.

I hope more work is being done behind the scenes and that campus security will redouble their efforts to prevent such incidents. Nonetheless, I think it is important for you to address this matter again publicly listing more concrete steps that the University will take to ensure that all of its students feel safe.

Sincerely,

Yacoub Kureh”

(18 April 2015)

I know your office is very busy and it is difficult to reply to all messages, but for so much time to have passed without any action is very distressing. Let me direct your attention to a quote from your website regarding the priorities you set for yourself early on in your tenure as Chancellor of this University:

“We are committed to fostering a welcoming campus, as well as understanding and tolerance within the UCLA community.” (http://chancellor.ucla.edu/priorities)

To this end, I would imagine an attack as flagrant, incendiary, and directed as the one mentioned above which targeted a group of students at UCLA, merits a significant response as would an attack on any other campus community. Thus, I am asking that you reaffirm your commitment by taking action. This can be in the form of launching an investigation, creating a task force for handling such incidents, or meeting with several student organizations, including the Students for Justice in Palestine, in order to establish a concrete and substantive strategy to deal with this disturbing episode and prevent similar ones from recurring. In this situation, merely sending an email will not suffice for effecting the tangible change that is needed to rectify such an egregious problem, but I do implore you to inform the UCLA community of what has happened and what your planned response is.

We all know that “fostering a welcoming campus” is no simple task. A place of higher learning will undoubtedly be home to many controversial debates which certainly rouse audiences. This is especially true for those whose passion for the topics at hand are rooted in something as serious as their identities, their physical well-being, their families, and their rights. We should never shy away from having these important conversations if we are to grow as educated citizens in a dynamic world. However, in order to do this, certain community guidelines ought to be in order so that we may learn from each other in an environment that is inviting and safe. We must strive for it by working together with those with whom we disagree. We must fight for it by protecting not just ourselves but our entire Bruin family, even those–or rather, especially those–who have different backgrounds and opinions from us. If this kind of diversity really is your vision, then it is an admirable one.

Over the course of my first year at UCLA, I have had the pleasure of working with many students who are involved in several organizations. I am truly impressed by how they always do their best to make every space on campus inclusive on a personal level. I sincerely hope that in the coming years everyone at UCLA can reap the benefits of their efforts on the ground and the efforts of your administration.

Lastly, I want to clarify that I am writing to you as a concerned individual student: not as a representative of Students for Justice Palestine, not on any other person’s behalf, nor in another capacity.

Yours respectfully,

Yacoub Kureh

PhD Student in Mathematics, UCLA

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