Foothill College's Student News Publication

The Foothill Script

Foothill College's Student News Publication

The Foothill Script

Foothill College's Student News Publication

The Foothill Script

Opinion: Foothill Administration’s Continuous Disregard of Student Voices

Foothill College’s main entrance. Attribution: Coolcaesar at the English Language Wikipedia.

Foothill College has continuously failed to acknowledge the ongoing genocide in Palestine. In response to the walkout organized by students on May 1st, President Whalen offered a roundtable to Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian, and Israeli students in order to give us an opportunity to discuss our grievances with the college. We hoped the intention was to truly listen and make positive changes for the students. This roundtable, held on May 14th, 2024, fell nothing short of unacceptable, and was frankly disrespectful to the students in attendance.

Walking into this roundtable, we were greeted with a list of “Community Agreements,” which attempted to shape this discussion in a productive manner, yet failed to do so. Throughout the entire conversation, President Whalen attempted to use the agreement “Try on process” to attempt to understand our ideas. She used a therapist-like voice, merely repeating our own ideas back to us and never internalizing them to form thoughtful responses. Additionally, her body language was lacking at best, as she faced away from students while they were speaking. Students also questioned Whalen about intimidation from law enforcement, to which she deflected that her boss was in charge of campus police. Yet, when students were intimidated during a poster making event, the campus police said they were sent by her orders. This lack of readiness and willingness to properly engage with students felt like a “slap in the face.” Failing to acknowledge a genocide affecting students on her own campus, all while calling on them to engage in a discussion where she was very disinterested, only reinforces the idea that the president’s office simply does not care to truly engage in the difficult conversations that involve facing one’s own failures, as unpleasant as it may be.

Unfortunately, the disrespect that occurred during the discussion did not stop there. One student brought up how systemic racism is prevalent in Foothill College, and, instead of thoughtfully acknowledging it and moving on, President Whalen decided to ELMO the discussion. For context, according to the community agreements provided by the administration, ELMO is an acronym for “Everyone, Let’s Move On.” They said it was to “encourage folks to share what they need to and not get trapped in circular conversations.” However, in this roundtable it was used to avoid uncomfortable conversations and accusations of systemic racism. One student said that “the term was disrespectful to us and the movement, as the genocide isn’t something that we can just ‘move on’ from.” I cannot help but agree and in turn question the thought process that went into the preparation of this conversation. To use a children’s television show character as an acronym for the purpose of asking students to table their opinions on a genocide is extremely disrespectful and dismissive, especially when the point of the roundtable was to discuss our feelings on the genocide. The genocide of 40,000 Palestinians is not something that can be tabled for a later date, especially when the Israeli invasion of Rafah just started on May 5th. This ELMO sentiment was again used against us when President Whalen abruptly ended the roundtable. This came after she was confronted by a student who was asking for her to take accountability. Shock and disgust are a disservice when describing the energy in the room after this. President Whalen refused to listen to students even if it was a difficult conversation.

I regret to inform you that the disrespect still continues. It has been a contentious point in debates concerning this genocide, and people argue that citizens in the United States should not care because it is not happening on our soil. President Whalen shared this sentiment, claiming that previous resolutions passed for Black Lives Matter were necessary due to racism actively occurring on campus. I should not need to say how wrong that claim is when students are being harassed for simply wearing kufiyas on campus. There has also been televised police brutality against protesters across the nation. According to Jewish Voice for Peace, “one of the main facilitators of police exchanges between the U.S. and Israel, was forced to acknowledge that its exchange program helped militarize U.S. police and harm communities of color.” In short, United States police can be trained in Israel, bringing the apartheid regime’s genocidal tactics to our country. So yes, President Whalen, it is happening here. 

Reflecting back, it seems that the roundtable email, sent not even an hour after the walkout ended, was a poor attempt at reaching out to the students. I do have to agree with the administration that these conversations require a longer amount of time and care. However, the roundtable felt like an extremely performative event that aimed to pacify students in order to keep our movement quiet. It is safe to say it failed, because she did not listen to us in a way that made us feel heard.

When asked about what future steps should be taken, a student said “they should release a ceasefire statement…even if they want to be neutral, I feel like this is a neutral standpoint because it would be peace on both sides.” We hope the administration comes to the realization that these superficial attempts at connecting with students are not enough. Real change happens with continuous dialogue coupled with the intentional effort to listen to students, and not just in a singular one-hour round table with no actual listening being done. For now, ELMO :).

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    Mitch Reitman
    Jun 6, 2024 at 10:04 am

    Referring to the situation in Palestine as “genocide” is not consistent with international definitions and oversimplifies a deeply complex conflict. Accurate terminology and historical context are essential for constructive dialogue. The administration cannot acknowledge a genocide, because Israel’s response to Hamas’ murderous assault on Israeli soil is not a genocide.

    Kudos to President Whalen for trying to bring diverse groups together.While its execution may have been lacking, the goal was to foster understanding and address grievances collaboratively. If the author of this Op Ed were truly interested in providing constructive criticism, they should focus on suggestions for improving these dialogues rather than dismissing them entirely.

    Accusations of systemic racism and police intimidation must be addressed with clear evidence and a commitment to transparency. The term “ELMO” was likely intended to keep conversations focused, not to dismiss serious issues.

    It is crucial to recognize the efforts of Jewish organizations working towards peace and justice and to avoid anti-Semitic undertones in the discourse. Criticism of Israel should not perpetuate harmful stereotypes or unfairly target Jewish communities.

    Moving forward, we need continuous, inclusive dialogue and genuine efforts from the administration to address student concerns. Only through respectful and informed discussions can we hope to achieve mutual understanding and progress. This “opinion piece” is an example of how not to achieve this.