The Pitzer/Haifa Resolution: A Suspension of Opportunity

By Shir Bar Nes

Higher education offers higher opportunities than just academic studies. It offers the chance to grow past personal, political, and cultural boundaries. Most importantly, college and university give one the chance to meet new people, understand each other’s differences, and embrace diversity.

My name is Shir Bar Nes, and I’m a student of political science at Haifa University. The chance I was given to grow was through a friendship, one that enriched my life. I wouldn’t have had the possibility of this friendship outside of Haifa University. Unfortunately, due to resolutions being voted on at Pitzer College, I’m afraid that many other students won’t have the same opportunity for such a friendship. The lack of such an opportunity leaves the door open not just to a wilting of understanding of others, or the weakening of diversity, but room for uncompromising conflict.

The story of my friendship is not an uncommon one at Haifa university. It’s not even particularly remarkable. But it means a lot to me. As a Jewish-Israeli, I thought that I didn’t have much in common, and therefore much to say, to my fellow political science student, Ahmed. He was Muslim, and came from a different world than I did. One day, after an exam, we found ourselves leaving the classroom at the same time. As a post-exam tradition for students, we nervously compared notes.

He asked me, “How did the exam go?”

“Okay man, not easy,” I replied.

A few simple words, and some shared concern over a test, and the gulf between us was bridged. We continued talking and talking, finding we had more in common than just an exam. A love for food, for one thing. We drank coffee together, and ate kanafeh, a traditional Arabic pastry. We discussed our different backgrounds, where we came from and where we wanted to go. Of course, we discussed politics, on which we often disagreed, but enjoyed the intellectual rigor nonetheless. Continued conversation led into dinner, shawarma and espresso.

By the time we finished eating, it was dark and pouring rain. Naturally, I offered to give him a ride home. It didn’t think much of it, but the gesture meant a lot to him. When we arrived at his parent’s home, he invited me inside to meet his family. I learned very quickly that Jewish and Muslim mothers are very much alike—feeding you delicious food whether you’re full or not. While talking to Ahmed’s parents with my limited Arabic, I absentmindedly played with an Islamic rosary that had been left on the table. It was late when I finally rose to leave. Saying my goodbyes, Ahmed’s mother gave me a gift: the rosary, which had come all the way from Mecca. I still keep this rosary close to me.

If not for our shared experience over our studies, I wouldn’t have met Ahmed. I would have never met his parents. And I certainly wouldn’t have had a friend with whom I can discuss opposing political views. I wouldn’t know on what we agree on, or on what, or how, we need to compromise. There are hundreds if not thousands of stories like mine at Haifa U. However, the upcoming Pitzer college resolutions to end student exchange between our institutions may make it so Pitzer students cannot develop their own stories of friendship.

When one commits to never meeting people from different walks of life, they prevent themselves from finding common ground. Without learning the other side’s positions, how they live, and what they aspire to, how can peace ever thrive? The alternative is continued misunderstandings and mistakes when speaking and dealing with one another. We would never find a way to end our conflicts, whether interpersonal or international.

When we don’t interact with people that are different from us, how can the beauty of diversity bloom? We don’t learn about the wonderful food that other people have, we don’t experience each other’s music, or art. These things are the spice of life and allows people from diverse backgrounds to live together. A life without appreciating the diversity of others is a lonely one.

Of course, there is danger in blocking one’s self off from the opportunity of meeting those that we disagree with. The gulfs are never bridged, and those that are different or disagree remain distant figures. As figures rather than people, radicals can enter the discourse and lead to the dehumanization of one another. It allows for racism, bigotry, and all the other blights of history. Without interacting, it can be difficult for some to see the other as people like us, with mothers to feed us after a long day at school.

The resolutions at Pitzer College to cancel student exchange threaten to institutionalize these problems. By removing the option of students to travel and learn at Haifa University, the opportunity for building friendships like mine and Ahmed’s are denied. Students at Pitzer and those from Haifa will not find common ground with others as I have, and consequently the ability to find solutions to our issues. Haifa U will be denied the diversity that international students bring, and no one will be able to learn from them as I have from Ahmed. Worse, without the chance to meet with students from Haifa, radicals might be able to influence the unsuspecting with dehumanizing propaganda.

At its core, the resolutions to cancel exchange is a boycott. However, it is not just a boycott of Haifa University. It’s also a boycott of me, a boycott of my friendship, and a boycott of the personal growth of Pitzer students.

I beg the student body of Pitzer college, and that of all the Claremont colleges, to reject the resolution to end the student exchange. We must continue our interactions, so that we may grow past our differences. If you have any further questions, or just want to chat, feel free to contact me on Facebook (Shir Bar Nes). I’m always happy to make new friends, and I hope one day to meet a student from Pitzer in Haifa. Maybe Ahmed and I will take them out for coffee and kanafeh.

Peace. Love. Music.

#YesToExchange

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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