Let’s face it. At Williams, news about humanitarian struggles is glossed over in our purple bubble. The excitement of knowing what is going on in our world is lost behind the seemingly constant banter of sports-related television programming in Mission Dining Hall. It isn’t any wonder that Williams students forget the importance of raising awareness on our campus in relation to humanitarian issues around the globe. While our primary occupation as college students is to study, study, study and learn whatever our hearts desire, our duty as members of the global community does not come to a screeching halt once we enter our picturesque campus by way of Route 2. We have to remember that it is we who will solve the many humanitarian problems our world will be plagued with in the future, and what better time to start tackling these issues than as intelligent college student, bursting with innovative ideas.
Nov. 18 was an exciting date for student activist group “Students for Palestinian Awareness.” After much hard work, endless dedication and persuasive proposing, award-winning filmmaker Jackie Salloum was finally going to screen her critically acclaimed film, Slingshot Hip Hop, and DAM, Palestine’s first hip-hop group, was going to perform a once-in-a-lifetime performance based on personal experiences with the Palestinian struggle. Noticing a need for more activist-minded events at Williams, Students for Palestinian Awareness, two campus offices (Chaplain’s Office, Deans’ Office), three academic departments (Africana Studies, Arabic Studies, Latina/o Studies), four student groups (VISTA, AASIA, SSJ, MINCO), two campus centers (Multicultural Center, Center for Developmental Economics) and the Committee on Undergraduate Life helped fund the rather expensive but extremely worthwhile event. What overwhelming support! However, the event was not entirely welcomed with supportive arms.
After ill-equipped research, some students found DAM’s lyrics to be potentially offensive. Such lyrics are most notably from the songs “Meen Erhabe” (Who’s The Terrorist), which outwardly criticizes the Israeli government for oppressing Palestinian people and “Born Here,” which can easily be considered a protest song calling for the end of oppression in the group members’ homeland. These particular students felt polarized, frightened and threatened that our campus was about to welcome, with astounding ardor, such a controversial group to perform at Williams. Many who were responsible for funding the event were approached and expected to consider the potential of pulling funding for one of Students for Palestinian Awareness’ biggest events. This surprised, shocked and bewildered many students, including myself. Not only did it seem as though DAM was specifically being targeted solely because of misconceptions that could easily be broken if people become more aware of humanitarian struggle, but it insulted the founding of hip hop as an art form – one built out of the struggles of an oppressed African-American people in South Bronx. Some of the greatest hip-hop MCs such as Sugarhill Gang, Run-DMC and one of DAM’s main influences, Tupac, were not rapping to make people feel comfortable. They aimed to offend their oppressors with up-front wording and honest emotion. So bringing DAM, the pioneer of the hip-hop movement in Palestine, was not only important but also necessary for the Williams campus. Students for Palestinian Awareness surely knew that its event would cause controversy. Nevertheless, one thing must be understood: Controversial activism is not in place to comfort people.
After the widely successful film screening and the concert that attracted many faculty members curious students and young aspiring Arabic hip-hop artists, misconceptions based on a misunderstanding of DAM, the Palestinian struggle for freedom and hip-hop were soon quelled. Yet, the lingering feeling that students would feel offended by controversy still bothered many. There was a misunderstanding of DAM precisely because there are misconceptions about groups like DAM and the Palestinian struggle for freedom and equality. This campus-wide issue takes root in one of the main problems Williams faces as a college community. The importance of bringing to this campus a much-needed awareness for humanitarian struggles around the world is easily forgotten or brushed off despite its importance. Especially when attempting to create a cohesive community with individuals that we take for granted every single day and that have first-hand experiences with oppression, we need to create an intellectual understanding of why it is important to raise awareness.
Williams needs to take a step in the right direction – one in which students become aware of humanitarian issues and shy away from the notion that controversy is offensive. I want to remind everyone that some of the many things we take for granted today came out of struggles that were controversial in their respective times. We have a specific duty as a community of scholars, and that duty is to break down misconceptions by finding the importance of being aware.