Basel al-Araj, a Palestinian intellectual, writer, and pharmacist, stated: “If you want to be an intellectual, you have to be engaged. If you don’t want to be engaged – if you don’t want to confront oppression – your role as an intellectual is pointless.” He was assassinated in 2017 in an Israeli police raid at his home in al-Bireh, a city in the West Bank.
The state of Israel is waging an onslaught of indiscriminate and unchecked violence backed by complete diplomatic cover and financial support from the US. Since October 7, 2023, we have been witnessing the accelerated genocide and displacement of Palestinians as a continuation of the Nakba (the catastrophe) that began in 1948. As of January 15th, the Palestinian death toll exceeded 24,000 people, with thousands more estimated to be buried under rubble or injured. How many more Palestinians must suffer and die before our institutions and the leaders who uphold them say enough is enough?
As graduate students at the Goldman School of Public Policy (GSPP), we heed Basel al-Araj’s call and refuse to be disengaged intellectuals. We refuse to be silent in the face of oppression the way our institutions model for us. As policy practitioners and leaders, we have a duty to dismantle the centuries worth of racist and capitalist scaffolding that manufactures and profits from local and global oppression. To us, a better future gets made when we dare to speak up and advance justice and liberation for all. It is one in which our institutions divest from oppression and injustice, and invest in life and liberation.
In that spirit, GSPP for Palestine, a coalition of 117 graduate students, signed and delivered a collective statement expressing solidarity with Palestinians. We urged GSPP administrators to leverage their political influence to call for an immediate ceasefire and the divestment of financial resources from the war economy. In response, the administration doubled down on its decision to remain silent in the face of genocide, refusing to call for a ceasefire or divestment. Our school fails to criticize, or even name, the complicity of the US government – backed by our tax and tuition dollars – in the oppression and persecution of Palestinians.
Notably, the administration claims that “GSPP, as an academic public institution, cannot issue statements of support on political issues or use its influence to call for political actions like ceasefires or divestment; individuals and organizations can.”GSPP Dean Response to Student Petition [on Palestine], 11/21/2023
However, this is not true. UC Berkeley is governed by UC-wide policy, which allows departments to make political statements as long as they do not tie their views to the university at large. In 2022, the role of the university in political and social action was questioned, resulting in a report with guidance on how departments can promote humanity, wisdom, and civility in their community. The Systemwide Academic Senate re-affirmed the UC-wide policy. Political statements have been made for Palestine on many UC campuses over multiple years. To date, the only UC Berkeley department to issue a public statement about the genocide in Palestine is the Department of Middle Eastern Studies. In addition, the dean of the School of Public Health issued an internal statement supporting a ceasefire.
It is arguably more relevant for GSPP to take a political stance than any other department or school at UC Berkeley. GSPP produces thought leaders on domestic and international policy issues. Our curriculum specifically trains us to analyze policy issues, take strong stances, and make policy recommendations. GSPP’s lack of a stance on the genocide in Palestine begs several questions. In the over half a century since its founding, has GSPP ever taken a public political stance? Was it silent in the face of the Civil Rights movement, the South African anti-apartheid movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Russian occupation of Ukraine? Can GSPP only take a stance after the “correct” side of history has been decided by public institutions (despite public opinion already determining that a ceasefire is the correct side)? Does GSPP’s silent complicity contradict the values of equity and academic freedom it claims to espouse? How can we, as students, allow our school to claim that it cannot make policy recommendations when we are trained to do so as future policy experts?
Ultimately, the statement made by the GSPP administration demonstrates that our school does take political stances. It is a political stance to stay silent in the face of oppression, and this stance is shameful. If GSPP cannot be on the side of justice for Palestine, then it cannot credibly support equity work or social justice movements at large.
We – GSPP students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, and donors alike – must determine if we want to spend our lives upholding the status quo or creating a better future. While a ceasefire is the immediate plea and demand of Palestinians under bombardment, it is the bare minimum that individuals and institutions can call for. Once a ceasefire is instituted, we must work toward an end to the occupation of Palestine, fulfilling the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland, and the abolition of settler colonialism, imperialism, and racial capitalism across the globe.
Below, we have published GSPP for Palestine’s collective statement as well as the GSPP administration’s response as a means of public accountability to ourselves and to future generations.
Goldman School of Public Policy Graduate Students
Collective Statement on the Genocide in Palestine
November 13, 2023
To the GSPP administration:
As graduate students at the Goldman School of Public Policy (GSPP), over a hundred of us are writing to you about the horrific ongoing events in Palestine. We chose the Goldman School for our graduate studies in part because of its inspiring slogan: “How a better future gets made.” GSPP is a renowned engine of political progress in the U.S. and abroad. However, we find ourselves grappling with a disconnect between this mission and the absence of a GSPP statement addressing the ongoing violence in Gaza and the West Bank. We–like many of our peers at UC Berkeley–are disappointed by the lack of action that the UC Berkeley and GSPP administrations have taken in response to the destruction of innocent Palestinian lives and U.S. provision of funds and weapons that are used to bomb civilians in violation of humanitarian law. How are we expected to challenge the current institutions founded on settler colonialism, white supremacy, imperialism, and neoliberalism after graduating from our program when these structures are not challenged in our own classrooms? Our GSPP role models have remained largely silent, and we need to see a leadership that teaches us what it looks like to speak truth to power.
Several of us in the GSPP community, signed below [signatures redacted for safety reasons], are emotionally and mentally distressed as a result of the recent attacks on Gaza and across Palestine. In addition to our collective trauma, some of us have directly experienced loss and grief over the past month. With the media justifying the ongoing ethnic cleansing, it has become increasingly difficult for Jewish, Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students and allies to find spaces to process and discuss how we feel in an intellectual environment, especially given a domestic increase in Islamophobic and antisemitic hate crimes and surveillance of student political activity. We cannot go on with business as usual; this moment demands more from all of us.
We are demanding the following from the GSPP administration:
- Publish a statement as an institution calling for an immediate ceasefire and lifting the siege on Gaza.
- Use the school’s political leverage and connections with GSPP alumni and community to call on national and global decision-makers to push for an immediate ceasefire.
- Protect the free speech rights of students and instructors who are (at risk of) being targeted and doxxed for speaking out. We also ask that GSPP refrain from actively discouraging or silencing students and faculty from discussing the genocide. As students and clients of GSPP, we must have safeguards for intellectual debates and discourse that challenge the American neoliberal institution and its imperialist foreign policy.
- Call on the University to divest its financial resources from weapons manufacturers and other entities that are involved in the war economy. As students who provide funds to the University through tuition and other fees, we have the right to know and determine how our funds are being used.
- Create spaces that:
- Continue to allow GSPP community members to find solidarity in processing and healing together.
- Fund and accommodate town halls for political education and discourse regarding the matter.
- Uplift Palestinian voices, which are consistently silenced by the Israeli state and U.S. media.
- Acknowledge the ongoing grief being experienced by students by:
- Continuing to provide or direct students toward campus resources for safety and well-being.
- Empowering instructors to provide accommodations for students deeply and directly affected by the crisis.
As a public policy school, we seek to hold ourselves accountable to think critically and question the actions of the U.S. government in our curriculum, and yet we have not been given sufficient opportunity to criticize the actions of the U.S. government–backed by our tax dollars–in Palestine.
We ask that the administration remedy the lack of organized discourse and actions taken by GSPP–and by the entirety of the University–and join multiracial, multiethnic, and interfaith leaders on campus in demanding an immediate ceasefire. We view these tragic events, which are the bastion of policy and human rights issues, as an opportunity for the Goldman School to engage and educate its community members.
GSPP for Palestine, a coalition of 117 GSPP graduate students and counting
Dear Petitioning Students at GSPP,
Thank you for reaching out with your concerns regarding the ongoing events in the Middle East. After engaging with staff, faculty, alumni, and students about your requests and experiences, I can say unequivocally that everyone sees you wholly and acknowledges the depth of your emotions and the seriousness of the situation. Your efforts to seek justice reflect the spirit of advocacy and civic mindedness that GSPP stands for, and I appreciate your candidness in expressing your views. It also reflects a moral positioning motivated by a desire for respect, decency, and peace in our world.
We are all affected by the recent events in Israel and Gaza, as well as the ongoing war in Ukraine, attacks on civil rights and liberties in the US, and the general strain experiencing life’s daily injustices. These collective experiences can significantly challenge our belief in justice and the pain and trauma experienced by members of our community, especially those who have suffered personal losses, are concerns we take seriously. The campus and GSPP are continuously working to ensure Berkeley remains a space for open and respectful dialogue on all issues, including those that deeply affect our diverse student body at the moment. And, I will reiterate that I am committed to finding ways to support students and student organizations that want to take the initiative: we are all GSPP. It is indeed the case that our staff and faculty are also experiencing trauma as they live through these issues constantly through their research and service to the School and Berkeley. Sometimes, our efforts will fall short, and I can assure you that it is not due to a lack of care or indifference.
GSPP, as an academic public institution, cannot issue statements of support on political issues or use its influence to call for political actions like ceasefires or divestment; individuals and organizations can. GSPP is dedicated to upholding the principles and exercises of free speech and academic freedom for all. We have not been actively communicating positions on this topic, and many others, so that all members of our community feel comfortable expressing their own beliefs. Free speech and expression does not occur in isolation, and we are well-aware of the consequences and tensions of this aspect of American democracy and our campus.
We will continue to protect these rights for all students and faculty members, ensuring that our classrooms and school environment remain places for intellectual debate and discourse, even on challenging and sensitive topics. I will also convey this positioning to the campus leadership.
There are conduct policies and accountability structures designed to safeguard everyone’s ability to engage issues with clear behavioral boundaries in mind, especially with regard to respect and integrity, discrimination and harassment, political advocacy and classroom activities, and student accommodations. We take these policies seriously and violations can jeopardize one’s employment and/or enrollment status, financial aid, and degree completion at UC Berkeley. These policies should be at the forefront when considering one’s own actions and when observing and evaluating the actions of others.
To address some of your specific concerns, we have taken or will continue to take the following measures:
- Creating spaces for the GSPP community to process, discuss, and heal together, recognizing the mental and emotional impact of these events. Some of this has and will occur in classrooms, but I strongly encourage identifying and creating a range of diverse experiences.
- Hosting sessions with Ciarra Jones, titled ‘Together We Heal,’ where faculty, staff, and students collectively explored grief as a point of solidarity and connection, its ties with systemic inequality, and identifying those in need of support.
- Organizing a Graduate Student led event to facilitate informed dialogue about global conflicts.
- Ensuring that UC Berkeley resources for safety, well-being, and mental health support are readily promoted and communicated to all students.
- Encouraging instructors to be mindful of and accommodate students deeply affected by these events. We also encourage our students to become familiar with these resources and to share them with each other.
- Providing GSPP instructors guidance about how to hold spaces to discuss the Israel-Gaza conflict, and other contentious subjects, if they choose to do so in the classroom.
The power of education and dialogue in tackling complex global issues is crucial for changemaking, and we recognize and embrace that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. GSPP is committed to providing a diverse toolkit for speaking truth to power and fostering an environment where diverse viewpoints can be expressed, received, and debated constructively. These are not easy times, but we can employ lessons from our DEIB training to pause and understand before moving to action. I encourage all of us to continue engaging in these critical discussions, both within and beyond the classroom, while also being mindful of the art and science of these deliberations.
Thank you once more for voicing your concerns. I value your input and am committed to ensuring that GSPP continues to be a place where contentious issues can be discussed openly and respectfully.
David C. Wilson, Dean
Goldman School of Public Policy