November 9, 2023 | NEWS | By Taylor Lynch
Dozens of students confronted President L. Song Richardson on Tuesday at what began as a student meet-and-greet at Benjamins’s café in Worner Campus Center. The coalition of students confronted Richardson about Colorado College’s public stance on the Israeli-Hamas War, as depicted in an Oct. 12 email to the CC community. The group urged Richardson to condemn the conflict as a genocide being perpetrated by the Israeli Defense Force and Israeli government.
Students carried signs declaring, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” “anti-Racism is anti-Zionism” and “CC your silence is loud.”
Richardson welcomed a discussion with the group, pulling up a chair next to the students. The students proceeded to read the demands of a petition written by the Colorado College chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The petition was submitted to President Richardson’s office on Tuesday evening, having been signed by over three hundred members of the campus community.
The petition has the following demands:
- Colorado College is transparent about its $1 billion endowment (and its affiliation with Israeli sympathizers and financial supporters).
- Colorado College divests from companies profiting from Israeli apartheid and occupation.
- Colorado College condemns the genocide happening in Gaza by the Israeli government.
- Colorado College cancels the Summer Blocks in Israel that directly support the Apartheid Government and go against the values of decolonization and antiracism.
Although the discussion was framed around these key demands from the organization’s petition, the floor was open for any comment or concern.
A central focus of the discussion focused on the students’ effort to make Richardson explicitly condemn what they called Israeli genocide on Palestinians.
When confronted on this point Richardson said, “It’s probably not going to happen. I’m not going to say it’s 100%, but the more I reflect on schools across the country and think about what our goal is, and as we [colleges] continue to make statements about a variety of things, I’m just not sure. Does it make it not a genocide if I don’t speak? Does it make it a genocide if I do?”
This statement was rebutted by students who were critical of Richardson’s neutrality. One student offered their perspective, saying, “As a Jewish person at this school I don’t feel safer, more comfortable, or any better with an administration that isn’t speaking out against a genocide.”
Another student noted the nature of attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank which predate Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack by decades, to which President Richardson agreed.
“So why don’t you condemn these current acts?” the student responded, “Your actions are enabling. Neutrality is a stance. You need to consider how your actions promote this injustice against Arabs, Muslim and Palestinian students.”
Upon continuous criticism of her condemnation, Richardson offered an explanation, saying, “When I think about Hamas’ actions, they are hard for me not to condemn. I acknowledge that Hamas and Palestine are not the same. I also condemned many acts throughout the region and acknowledge that everything that is happening is important. So why don’t I condemn Israel? The history is so complicated and I’m not going to pretend to understand it. But when we think about genocide in and of itself, it is an intent to irradicate an entire population. So, I wonder if that is Israel’s intent?”
“Yes!” the students cried out.
Much of the conversation focused on the Oct. 12 email from President Richardson’s office, which the students claimed pinned blame on Hamas and not on occupation or violence perpetrated by the Israeli Defense Force and government.
The statement declared, “We condemn the atrocities perpetrated by Hamas against civilians, which are resulting in serious injury and death to countless numbers of innocent Palestinians and Israelis. We also denounce the acts of terror that have been perpetrated in the region beyond the current moment, and we condemn such acts no matter where they take place in the world.”
CC has not released any additional statements since this date.
Addressing the email, one student stated, “acknowledging genocide is a part of creating safe spaces. The last communication from your office addressed the actions of Hamas and did not acknowledge the murders, kidnappings and atrocities on Palestinians. To say that only Hamas is to blame does not acknowledge the bigger picture.”
In response, Richardson pointed to her lack of expertise in the complex history of the region.
Another student followed up, stating, “Hamas is being held responsible for the loss of Israeli and Palestinian life. This is not true. Israelis are killing Palestinians. The last communication implied that Hamas is the perpetrator, but this is not true. We will protest.”
“Good. I hope you will,” Richardson replied.
As student criticism persisted in relation to CC’s lack of condemnation of Israel’s use of force, such as dropping bombs on hospitals and targeting humanitarian aid, Richardson specified the intended meaning of her Oct. 12 statement.
“The statement I wrote was intended to condemn all of those actions,” Richardson said. “Hearing from those of you who have spoken, this was not my intent. My intent was to condemn an atrocity, the deaths, the murders and the horrible number of casualties.”
To the point of financial inquiries – points one and two of the petition – Richardson invited students to the public Town Halls that commence after committee meetings. Richardson denied the presence of economic incentives for Colorado College in taking a public stance on the conflict.
Throughout the conversation, students attested to personal experience, citing aggressions they have been subjected to on CC’s Campus. One student claimed that she doesn’t feel safe as a Muslim woman at CC, sharing an interaction during a political science department info session when she was yelled at by another student. Upon the outburst, the harasser apologized to the whole class for his actions, but never specifically apologized to her for the incident.
Another student shared that he had been targeted by a member of the athletic faculty upon making a pro-Palestinian statement during Block 2. The student said that the athletic faculty member proceeded to prevent the student from participating in an educational session between an athletic team and a student organization, citing claims that members of the team were uncomfortable with his presence.
In justifying her neutral stance, Richardson continuously cited her role as the president of the entire CC student body and staff, a community filled with diverse ideologies.
“For me, it is my duty as president to be a voice for the whole CC Community,” Richardson said. “You will never know what my own opinions are. Other presidents might make a different choice, but my choice is to not express my own opinions because I am the President of everyone on this campus.”
Students took to this with force, questioning if Richardson recognized that her stance mattered, specifically as a Black and Korean woman in a position of power.
To this Richardson responded, “Of course it matters. The things I think matter, and they have to matter in the position. My role as the president changes and evolves. I’m not just the President of one group, and that impacts what I do, what I say, and how I say it.” Richardson was pressed one last time in regard to the status of Colorado College as an anti-racist institution.
“Given that CC is an anti-racist institution, can we agree that slavery is evil?” asked one student.
“Yes,” Responded Richardson.
“Can we therefore agree that colonialism is evil?”
“So if we can agree that colonialism is evil, and can say land acknowledgements, why can’t you say that Israeli genocide is evil? It’s hypocritical.” the student concluded.
To this point another student chimed in,
“As President, even if you don’t know everything, if you have power what is that power for if not to call out injustice?”
This conversation comes at a time when students and staff at institutions of higher education across the nation are being criticized for their stance on the Israeli-Palestinian war, and as a spike in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate plagues college campuses across the country.
In order to ensure individual privacy and the security of student activism, the names in this story have been redacted for anonymity. This protest consisted of students speaking as individuals and was not affiliated with any organization.
Colorado College did not respond to a request for comment on this story before the newspaper was submitted for print.