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April 17, 2018 11:32 am

Amid Blackface Controversy, Cal Poly Student Collective Targets ‘Zionist’ Campus Groups

avatar by Shiri Moshe

Jespersen Hall at California Polytechnic State University. Photo: Indefiarch.

A student collective at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo has issued a list of demands in the wake of a racially-charged controversy on campus, which includes calls for increased funding to all non-Zionist student clubs.

The school drew national attention last week after photos surfaced on social media showing a member of its Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity attending a party in blackface, and his peers dressed in stereotypical “gangster” clothing. While university president Jeffrey Armstrong has denounced the students’ actions, the administration has so far rebuffed calls to expel them.

Students addressed the offensive images at an emergency town hall meeting held last Monday, after which the Drylongso Collective campus group published a set of demands “in consultation with various student organizations affected by the inaction of the Administration, including the Black Student Union.”

The list, released on Friday, urged the school to provide Greek clubs with training to help address “Cal Poly’s deep-seated racial issues,” require students to complete Ethnic Studies courses before graduation, and establish an endowed professorship in the Ethnic Studies Department, among other requests. It also called for increased “funding for ALL cultural clubs, with the exception of organizations that are aligned with Zionist ideology.”

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If instituted, the demand would impact Jewish student groups including Hillel of San Luis Obispo, which has supported programming on campus related to Zionism, the movement for Jewish national-self determination in the Levant. No other cultural clubs that cater to students of a particular national or ethnic background would be affected.

Efforts to stigmatize Zionism — most famously through United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, which called the movement “a form of racism and racial discrimination” before being repealed — have been advanced on college campuses in recent years by pro-Palestinian activists, whose rejection of the ideology has been supported through intersectional coalitions.

While such positions have been spearheaded by groups including Jewish Voice for Peace, they largely remain on the fringe of the Jewish community. Israeli Jews overwhelmingly endorse Zionism, while a Pew Research survey published in 2016 found that most American Jews say “that caring about Israel is essential or important to what being Jewish means to them.”

Following criticism from some community members over the exclusionary treatment of Zionist students, the Drylongso Collective released a statement on Monday emphasizing “the distinction between Judaism and Zionism,” which cited works by the anti-Zionist group Jews Against Zionism, Palestinian-American academic Noura Erakat, and civil rights activist and author Angela Davis.

“That we chose to use these definitions by these scholars and organizations negates any insinuation that as a Collective we are in any way Anti-Semitic or Anti-Jewish,” the group claimed. “We encourage everyone, Jewish or not, to educate themselves on this very important distinction before lashing out with accusations or assumptions about where we stand.”

“Black folks and other People of Color have a long-standing history of standing in solidarity with Palestinian folks,” the statement continued. “Particularly given the Palestinian students who have struggled alongside marginalized students in previous Cal Poly student movements…, it would be disingenuous for us to bring attention to our own liberation struggles at the cost of theirs.”

Representatives for the Black Student Union, the Drylongso Collective, and Cal Poly did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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