It seems like each day brings news from the Middle East of another
suicide bombing, more destruction of Palestinian settlements, a
new round of defiance from Saddam Hussein—and on the other
side of the world, the people of the United States wonder whether
more violence and even war is inevitable.
Emotions can run high on college campuses even in the most peaceful
times, but under the threat of war, with opposing factions represented
by equally vocal groups separated by distance but not passion from
those with whom they identify in the Middle East, those emotions
can reach a flashpoint in an instant.
Emory has been fortunate; while campus discourse over two critical
situations in that part of the world—the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict and a possible U.S. war with Iraq—has been impassioned,
it has not turned ugly. Other campuses have not been so lucky.
Speaking with other university presidents at the recent meeting
of the American Association of Universities on campus, President
Bill Chace said the leaders of the universities of Colorado and
Michigan both lamented how situations related to these conflicts
on their campuses deteriorated into divisive confrontations, with
pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli students pitted against each other,
denigrating each other, even resorting to legal action against each
other or against the universities.
“I hope that maelstrom is not visited upon this campus,”
Chace told the Faculty Council at its meeting Oct. 22.
One way Chace envisions to prevent this from happening is by exhorting
the Emory faculty to help students to air their opinions, emotions
and grievances in such a way that, while conflict may not be avoided,
at least it can be kept on an intellectual level.
Faculty Council members Jim Grimsley, senior writer in residence
in creative writing, and Bruce Knauft, Dobbs Professor of Anthropology,
volunteered to study the issue and find ways for faculty to help
students channel their energies into discourse rather than confrontation.
“It is important for diverse voices to be heard through discussions
that are productively focused and moderated—so they don’t
simply devolve into shouting matches between people who merely want
to assert dogmatic positions,” Knauft said. “The university
is a special location for reasoned discourse because we have a wealth
of faculty who can supply factual information and historical and
cultural context about current social issues. This helps us understand
points of view we may not agree with.”
In the wake of Sept. 11, Emory has held numerous forums on all manner
of subjects connected to violence in the Middle East, from primers
on understanding Islam to examinations of related threats to academic
freedom, to frank discussions on whether the United States should
Just last night, Oct. 27, five professors—Rick Doner, Howard
Frumkin, Robert Bartlett, William Buzbee and Randall Strahan—from
public health, political science and the law school held a discussion
forum on the possible war with Iraq. Last Monday, Oct. 21, in White
Hall a group called Students for the War Against Terrorism—SWAT—held
another forum making “The Case for War In Iraq.”
Next week on Nov. 6, Emory College will host the first “Emory
Public Issues Forum,” inviting Atlanta Journal-Constitution
editor and columnist Jay Bookman to talk with a panel of Emory faculty
on the very same subject.
And the faculty are not limiting their expression to forums or meetings;
a group of Candler School of Theology faculty and staff, including
Dean Russell Richey, recently sent an open letter to President George
W. Bush urging him not to attack Iraq, saying a unilateral U.S.
attack “violates fundamental Christian principles and the
principles to which our nation is committed.”
Regardless of whether it means writing letters, holding public forums
or simply leading their individual classes in frank discussions,
Chace hopes the University faculty will take advantage of the natural
regard in which students hold them and help students channel their
intellect and emotions into discourse and learning, rather than
diatribes and derision.
“The very nature of these issues means that distress, and
even pain, is latent within them,” Chace said. “The
task, then, is both to recognize the pain that exists and converse
in such a way that pain alone is not the only subject. Univer-sities
are places that stand for the use of the mind as it can make sense
of emotions. Discussions need not, and should not, be bloodless;
but those discussions should give privilege to thinking over temper.”