‘Perspectives on Israel-Palestine’ Course Offered Through Cowell College

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While Cowell Provost Faye Crosby was designing a class about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she was often asked why the issue was relevant to UC Santa Cruz.

“Some people felt it would potentially mix in politics where we maybe don’t want to mix in politics,” Crosby said. “I listened to those opinions, but I felt it was in Cowell’s interest to go forward.”

In alignment with Cowell’s theme “The Pursuit of Truth in the Company of Friends,” a new class called “Perspectives on Israel-Palestine” is being offered at UCSC this quarter. Crosby said that discussing controversial issues rather than shying away from them is essential and beneficial as part of a student’s college education.

Crosby and psychology graduate student Ella Ben Hagai decided to create a speaker series featuring different perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to generate a safe and inclusive discussion within Santa Cruz. Ben Hagai has written articles about different understandings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including a piece titled, “Shifting Away From a Monolithic Narrative on the Conflict.”

“The U.S. is enmeshed in this conflict and plays an important role. We need people to be informed citizens and make the right choices,” Ben Hagai said. “Part of the university’s mission is to create people who can be actors within the democratic system. You have to know something about this conflict if you want to be an informed actor.”

Assistant Professor Jennifer Derr speaks during the “Perspectives on Israel-Palestine” class , which focuses on understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A rotation of new speakers every Tuesday gives the class an array of different perspectives. Photo courtesy of Ella Ben Hagai.
Assistant Professor Jennifer Derr speaks during the “Perspectives on Israel-Palestine” class , which focuses on understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A rotation of new speakers every Tuesday gives the class an array of different perspectives. Photo courtesy of Ella Ben Hagai.

The lecture is open to the public on Tuesdays, while the class on Thursdays is reserved for enrolled students. Crosby required Tuesday and Thursday classes to be held in different locations to alleviate any negative feelings students may feel from Tuesday’s lecture.

“Given the controversial nature of the course, it was clear some strong opinions would be disturbing to students,” Crosby said. “Thursday nights were reserved for students to discuss among themselves. I wanted students to not feel guarded or upset and not hide any of their opinions.”

The first class on Oct. 7 featured Kresge lecturer Christine King. There were approximately 80 people in attendance, including the 18 students enrolled in the class. King’s lecture focused on nonviolent communication, a process focusing on honesty and empathy.

“We are not trying to resolve this conflict. We are creating a space for deep listening by encouraging nonviolent communication,” King said.

During her lecture, King said nonviolent communication contends that all humans have the capacity for empathy, but may resort to harm when they feel their basic human needs are not met. The theory of nonviolent communication also states that conflicts between parties arise due to miscommunication when dialogue induces fear or guilt.

“Notice if you are using a blaming word as a feeling,” King said. “People won’t argue with you when you say you’re feeling sad or angry, but if you say you’re feeling attacked, the other person will feel blamed.”

Ben Hagai foresees arguments occurring in the classroom, but she believes it is an issue worth breaking down and discussing with diverse perspectives.

Aaron Block, a second-year studying Middle Eastern history, said he wanted to understand both perspectives of the conflict because he grew up only learning the Israeli perspective.

Students like Jinsil Kim, a third-year studying psychology, took the class to become educated about the conflict.

“The war on Gaza sparked my interest,” Kim said. “It’s such a complex conflict and I wanted to educate myself.”

The series will continue through fall quarter, featuring a new speaker every Tuesday. Each speaker will concentrate on a different element of the history and psychology relating to the conflict.

UCSC history professor Jennifer Derr lectured on the history of Palestine on Oct. 14, with several UCSC professors in attendance from the history of consciousness, feminist studies, history and Jewish studies departments. History lecturer Bruce Thompson’s talk on Oct. 21 focused on the history of the Zionists and why they came to Palestine.

Upcoming speakers include UC Berkeley professor Hatem Bazian and Stanford social psychologist and professor Lee Ross. Psychology graduate student Ben Hagai and Cowell Provost Crosby encourage students and community members to attend the speaker series to be better informed about the conflict.

“We should continue to work hand-in-hand to give students a really good education,” Crosby said. “If all my friends were my age or religion, that’d be boring. Intergenerational learning is one way to resist being just a factory of knowledge — we are not on an assembly line. This intergenerational aspect is one thing that makes UCSC special.”