FIU’s response to the Israel-Hamas war was unnecessary

FIU needs to support students -- not take stances. | From Hillel's Vigil. | Julian Davis, PantherNOW

PantherNOW Editorial Board

PantherNOW, in the clearest terms possible, stands with all FIU students, their families and friends impacted by the conflict in Israel, along with faculty and staff. 

That said, the response from FIU over the attacks last weekend was insensitive and inappropriate as an educational institute.

A university’s goal shouldn’t be to address its position on ongoing conflicts. An international institution like ours needs to recognize the complex – and quickly evolving – situation in Israel and Palestine. 

As such, the best response is to look at what our FIU community needs first. 

We recognize the effort that President Ken Jessell wanted to make in an email sent on Oct. 8, addressing the conflict and standing by students. 

However, only condemning the terrorist attacks on Israel by Hamas does not reflect the values of FIU as an international university. Instead, Jessell should’ve condemned the violence directed at both citizens of Israel and Palestinians, primarily focusing on supporting FIU students. 

Screenshot of President Jessell’s university-wide email

It’s not lost on us that he made the statement before Israel returned fire and that Jessell did not issue another statement after, even with Israel’s bombardment campaign or the loss of Palestinian life in the Gaza Strip

PantherNOW reached out to media relations to get a comment from Jessell on the intent of the first email statement and to see if there were plans to release another regarding Israel’s retaliation. 

“We are going to let the message stand on its own,” wrote Maydel Santana, assistant vice president for media relations and communication, in a text to PantherNOW. 

She added that FIU is the first in the state university system to put out a message. 

Again, we understand the intention behind the email, but the president should have made it unequivocally clear that FIU rallies behind its students, not that it has a stance on a geopolitical issue. Our loyalty needs to be to students primarily, and we have students from across the globe. 

FIU must stand with students – not  “U.S. leaders, leaders from around the world and the people of Israel” in decrying violence of any kind. 

Yes, Hamas’ civilian massacre must be denounced. But that does not justify the hundreds of civilians killed and maimed in Israel’s retaliatory bombing campaign, or leaving Palestinians stranded in Gaza without resources and with few options of escape.  

Being at the head of an “international” university means that the international student, staff, and faculty body must consider all community members impacted by the Israel-Hamas war. 

An email aiming for political sensitivity or weighing different angles on the issue is not meaningful. FIU should address what they’re doing for its students – not the position our leaders take in a decades-old conflict. 

Students aren’t looking to FIU leaders to make sense of the situation or to get support for one side or another. 

We’ve seen this in a couple of universities over this last week. Harvard and Stanford were criticized for publishing statements that were “shockingly feeble” in condemning Hamas. 

If leadership wants to be effective, administrators must support everyone and objectively address violence, no matter who perpetrates or experiences it. Better yet, simply say you stand by all students and leave the political commentary to someone else. 

We stand by all students affected by the violence. Our deepest sympathies are with the students, faculty and staff. We hope that FIU offers the same to its entire community. 

President Jessell, we know your good intentions. However, your response was poorly executed.

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