By Amethyst Martinez and Caroline Haviland
In a global atmosphere rattled by news of the latest Israel-Hamas war, even small higher education institutions in the U.S. like Rider have seen repercussions, with resources being offered to students affected and professors trying to decipher the complicated conflict.
Tragedy struck on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants surprise-invaded Israel from Gaza, resulting in the deaths of over 1,400 people as of Oct. 16, according to reports by the Israeli Ministry. At least 30 American citizens were among the deceased, according to an article published by NPR.
Areas struck by Hamas include a music festival and two kibbutzim, Kfar Aza and the Be’eri Kibbutz, which were some of the hardest-hit places along the Gaza border, according to ABC News. Along with the deaths of the invasion, Hamas threatened to execute hostages.
The invasion led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare war on Hamas, a Palestinian organization that the U.S. State Department declared a terrorist group in 1997. The week following resulted in Israeli military action against Gaza, including airstrikes and blocking off access to water, electricity and food and hints of a ground invasion.
At least 3,000 people have died in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry as of Oct. 17.
The conflict has also exposed polarizing divides on large university campuses in America. The campus of Columbia University in New York was closed on Oct. 12 due to dueling pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests, according to the Associated Press.
Five days after the attack on Israel, Room 201 in the Science and Technology Center filled with students, faculty and staff to discuss the conflict during a teach-in hosted by the Department of Government, Politics and Law entitled, “War in Israel.”
Before the program began, attendees whispered amongst themselves as the tension of the serious matter being discussed set in motion.
Sydney Tierney, a senior global studies major, said she attended to decipher the events and hear from professors on the difficult-to-navigate topic.
“This situation can be looked at in so many different ways,” said Tierney. “…because of the severity, it just brought up a lot of questions for everyone.”
Tierney said one of the issues she’s been seeing is the misinformation spread about the war, and how social media platforms like TikTok are being used as search engines for news, leading to falsified details on the conflict.
Even if students, faculty or staff couldn’t attend the meeting, the conversation was one that even those outside Rider’s scope wanted to hear.
“I had friends that had a class…They couldn’t make the event, but they wanted to know what was being discussed,” said Tierney. “I had family members that I told … and they’re like, let us know what you learned … People had questions all around.”
Faculty weighs in on conflict
Political science professor and event host Olivia Newman began the talk-in by addressing “a slightly larger room than usual,” as fellow professors in the department sat in the front row, prepared to offer their scholarly opinion on the war.
“What we do in these teach-ins is we offer our perspectives as political science to offer some insight and context into what’s going on in the world,” said Newman.
Political science professor Johnathan Mendilow, who spoke at the teach-in, said that he lived in Israel for some time, and had a “strong attachment” to the country. He also teaches classes at Rider on the Middle East and terrorism.
“This is the nature of organized violence,” said Mendilow in an interview with The Rider News. “The issue is how to divide ourselves, the sides from each other, and the parallels between the search for peace … as against the search for mutual damage.”
Other professors who spoke at the event include political science professor Barbara Franz and others in the department.
President Gregory Dell’Omo sent out an email to the university on Oct. 11 regarding the conflict in Israel and Gaza.
“At Rider University, we condemn this deplorable act of terrorism and the devastating human tragedy that we are witnessing take place in Israel and the Gaza region,” Dell’Omo said.
The email added that the counseling center is offering additional services as “a safe space for Jewish students to meet with counselors of Jewish faith as well as undertaking support and outreach to students of Palestinian and Middle Eastern descent.”
Rider’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion also said that they would be available for active listening and be there for students who want to talk and share, but still directed those affected to reach out to the counseling center, according to Heeyoung Kim, Rider’s chief diversity officer who leads the CDI.
A separate email sent out on Oct. 16 by Dell’Omo notified the university of a community vigil being held on Oct. 18 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Cavalla Room in honor of the lives lost from the latest Israel-Hamas war. RSVPs are required for the event, along with Bronc IDs needed for admittance.