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Student Body President Apologizes for Email

By Chris Lydgate ’90 on October 03, 2016 05:58 PM

Reed’s student body president has apologized for a mass email he sent to Reed students under an anti-Semitic subject line.

The student body president, who is a senior, sent the email at 10:55 p.m. on September 21, under the subject line “SB Info: Hasidic Jews are like the Jewish version of ISIS.”

The subject line was unrelated to the content of the email, a twice-weekly newsletter known as SB Info, which contains routine information about campus events and committee meetings. Indeed, it is not unusual for SB Info to carry surreal or nonsensical subject lines.

The email drew strong condemnation from Reed students, faculty, and staff. By midnight, more than a dozen students had replied to express their dismay, according to an article in the Quest.

A few minutes after midnight, the student body president sent another email to the student body apologizing for the subject line.

“I apologize—profusely and extensively—though I know the repercussions of my thoughtless actions will not be so easily or maybe ever remedied. I have no other words, I am sorry.”  He subsequently met with individual students, including the student leader of Reed’s Chabad chapter, and sent a formal apology to the student body a few days later. He also invited students to voice their concerns at the student senate, which dedicated the first half of its meeting to a discussion of the issue.

In response, Reed College President John R. Kroger sent an email to the entire Reed community affirming the imperative to treat all groups with respect and dignity:

All of us at Reed are deeply committed to the ideas expressed in the Reed College Diversity Statement, which was ratified by faculty, students, and the board of trustees. That statement commits us to create “an environment that respects the dignity and civil rights of all persons, particularly those from groups that have experienced discrimination and persecution.” It also reminds us that “Reed is dedicated to the honor principle, which expects that each of us actively maintains an open mind and generous heart in order to create a community that welcomes and supports all of its members.”

Many students at Reed found the email deeply troubling. “I do not expect every student to understand the nuances of the Jewish religion and the many sects it includes,” anthro major Halle Young ’20 wrote in the Quest. “I do expect, however, that such ignorance should not be trivialized or grouped under the same umbrella with witty quips and puns. Equating anything to ISIS is an incredibly inflammatory comparison, and to do so with no context or agenda at all, seems royally… misguided? Unnecessary? Confused? I don’t know if there is an appropriate word.”

In addition, Reed sent a message through its Office of Inclusive Community offering support to students who were affected by the email:

We are saddened to learn about a recent post in SB Info that included negative language about members of the Jewish community. Regardless of
the intent, statements that negatively stereotype groups, particularly those representing historically marginalized communities, have a deeply
hurtful and harmful effect and work against our community’s commitment to foster a diverse and inclusive living and learning environment.

Rabbi Dov Bialo and Chani Bialo, a local Hasidic couple who run a Chabad Jewish student center in SE Portland, wrote a letter to the Quest emphasizing the need for vigorous speech in defence of groups who have faced historic and current persecution:  

As a community, I think it’s time to question our “liberal safe haven.” Do we really love everybody, or do we get away with that claim by surrounding ourselves with similar-minded people? Do we really call out “evil” when we see it, or do we only call out those things that are “in style” to call out?

Some readers may wonder about the consequences the student might face for this action. Reed is governed by an Honor Principle. If a member of the community believes that an individual has caused unnecessary embarrassment, discomfort, or injury to the community, they can seek resolution through the Honor Process, which may result in sanctions ranging from apology to expulsion. Honor proceedings are confidential, however, and the guiding philosophy is restorative rather than punitive.