Published by Interfaith Youth Core on Oct. 16, 2014
as the Better Together team at Ohio University was getting back to
campus and getting their feet under them for this year's campaign,
something happened that changed everything.
On September 2, the newly elected president of Ohio U's Student
Senate uploaded a video response to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge she was
issued by the university's president. Rather than a bucket of ice
water, Megan Marzec dumped a bucket of fake blood over her head, while
calling attention to the Israeli government's treatment of the people of
Palestine and calling on the university to divest from all academic and
other institutions connected to or supportive of the government of
Within hours, the university president issued a statement distancing
himself and the university from Marzec's position. The Student Senate
issued an apology for her actions, and made clear that her statement
didn't express the Senate's opinion. And representatives of several
Jewish and/or pro-Israel student groups showed up at the September 3
Senate meeting to call for Marzec's resignation.
Then things went viral. Within days, Marzec's email and Facebook were
flooded with hate messages, death threats, rape threats, and vitriol
from all over the world. The university and the local chapter of Hillel
were deluged with phone calls and messages from concerned parents and
donors, threatening to pull their students and/or money from a campus
that (to them) was feeling more and more unsafe. It seemed like things
couldn't possibly get worse.
Things got worse. Members of Bobcats for Israel attended the
September 10 Student Senate meeting and, as it was called to order,
mounted a “filibuster,” reading a statement decrying Marzec and then
reading testimonies from administrators at various universities arguing
that academic sanctions were counterproductive. They held the floor for
close to 40 minutes, while student senators, faculty members, and
students shouted their disapproval, raised chants against them, and, at
times, physically confronted them. Some at the meeting heard students
call them "fascists" and "Nazis," and video of the event captured
something that sounded like "bring on the rope." At that point Marzec
called for a Senate vote on whether they should be removed from the
meeting, and four of the protesting students were arrested and removed.
Tensions were high.
Meanwhile, our Better Together campus organizers (remember them?) were busy planning our fourth annual 9/11 Interfaith Peace Walk.
Started on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the
Walk has offered an opportunity each September for hundreds of students
and community members to come together to embody a different vision of
what religious diversity might look like—people from all faiths united
in their commitment to peace. It's also served as a ready-made public
kickoff to the year's Better Together campaign—a way to get the name and
the message out there, on the streets of Athens, in front of several
hundred of our best and/or newest friends.
So, the day after four students were arrested at a Student Senate
meeting where they called for the resignation of the duly elected Senate
president, the week after the University was propelled onto the biggest
stage many of us had ever imagined, we called people of all faiths
together to walk for peace,
and to cultivate peace from the inside out. "We're at the center of a
media storm, and right now peace seems pretty far away," I said in my
introductory remarks. "And yet however tempted by despair, we have
brought our sore and heavy hearts here to be something extraordinary,
together. It starts here. Right here, in our sore and heavy hearts, is
where we need to begin to make peace." And we walked—Protestants and
Catholics, Jews and Muslims, Unitarians and agnostics and atheists and
Buddhists. In silence, in quiet conversation, in community. At the end
of the walk, in the light of the candles we held, we sang: "I've got
peace like a river, Joy like a fountain, tears like the raindrops,
strength like a mountain."
In light of how everything changed, think about what Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones said at the walk:
"There's healing power in saying 'This is who I am, and I'm standing
next to someone very different from me, but we're all in this
together.'" Or what Student Senate Vice President Caitlyn McDaniel said
after making the walk with students from the Muslim Student Association
and Bobcats for Israel: "This was very necessary for the community, and
it was a beautiful thing to see people coming together, especially
today." Think about seeing the president of Bobcats for Israel on the
lawn of the campus Islamic Center, chatting with other students who came
to the walk. Our work changes things.
It's still too soon to know exactly how our community will respond to the interfaith challenge Megan Marzec raised. But we will
respond. We're planning panels and teach-ins and movie screenings.
We're beginning, here and there, to figure out how we can talk about all
this. And in all these conversations we're beginning to build the
social capital that will make us resilient, that will empower us to face
future controversies together.