Rosse Hall was bustling at 7:30 p.m. Sunday night as students, faculty and staff gathered for "An Evening with Marc Lamont Hill," an event co-hosted by Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine (KSJP), the Black Student Union, Bridge Kenyon, Active Students Helping the Earth Survive (ASHES), Kenyon Young Democratic Socialists of America, Kenyon Magnetic Voices, A Medio Camino and the Muslim Student Association. The event, which was initially going to be held in Brandi Recital Hall, has been surrounded by controversy since its announcement.
"We decided to bring Marc Lamont Hill because he is an impressive speaker," KSJP wrote in an email to the Collegian. "His work as a social justice activist and as a journalist is exemplary, and his vision for a free Palestine is not limited to any particular borders."
Dr. Hill began his talk by addressing the criticism of a speech he gave at the United Nations for the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people in the fall of 2018. The fallout primarily dealt with the final words of the speech: "a free Palestine from the river to the sea." This phrase is considered by some pro-Israel voices to be a subtle call for the end of the Israeli state.
"The words that people focused on were not the 2,000 or 3,000 words I spoke for the first 21-and-a-half minutes of the speech," Dr. Hill said. "Instead they focused on the last eight words."
He stressed that he intended to communicate that the freedom of the Palestinians should not be limited by geography and that he does not agree with any solution that would do harm to a religious group. In addition, Dr. Hill emphasized his belief that the struggle for Palestinian liberation is interconnected with other progressive initiatives. He criticized those who he referred to as "PEBPs:" Progressives on Everything but Palestine.
"If we can learn one thing from Marc Lamont Hill, it is that we should really question our values if we are progressive except for Palestine." KSJP wrote. "We cannot claim to be feminists, for example, and not support Palestinian women in their struggle for freedom from Israeli occupation."
Some, including Ben Reingold '20, president of Kenyon Students for Israel (KSFI), believed that Dr. Hill's statement was a mischaracterization of progressive values. "There was an underlying theme that to be progressive one must be pro-Palestine. I wish he would have elaborated more on what 'pro-Palestine' means to him," he wrote in an email to the Collegian. "I feel very strongly that Zionism and the progressive movement are consistent ideologies."
The main speech was followed by a Q&A session in which 10 students spoke to Dr. Hill, generating a discussion that lasted over an hour. The conversation was generally well-received by those on both sides of the issue. "Not only was the dialogue productive, it was necessary and urgent for us to have it," KSJP wrote.
Reingold agreed. "In my experience," he said, "both KSJP and KSFI have always provided equal opportunity for all students to participate in the conversation."
KSJP looks to continue this type of dialogue on campus. "For the future, we would like to continue building solidarity with other activist groups on campus. We are grateful to our allies who showed us what solidarity means not only in words but in practice," they wrote.