President Michael Schill spoke to a group of Jewish and Muslim students on Tuesday about the importance of free speech, tolerance and unification at the Oregon Hillel meeting.
Manzil Midrash is a project that Oregon Hillel, the Muslim Student Association and the Arab Student Union started three years ago. It was created to have deeper conversations about Israeli and Palestinian issues, and to bring people together. Schill spoke as a part of a series of events for the project, according to Andy Gitelson, the executive director of Oregon Hillel.
The president recounted a brief history of his life and described being the only Jewish kid at his elementary school in Schenectady, New York. Schill spoke about how this experience made him embrace his differences and he encouraged other students who are minorities to do the same.
“Tonight’s talk is a really great opportunity for us to bring together students of different faiths and cultures, and obviously it is a very timely moment for this,” Schill said. “Our nation is at a crossroads where identity politics rages in a way that is troubling to me.”
Gitelson appreciates the way that Schill uses Jewish values to make his decisions as president of UO.
“He utilizes his own upbringing and the Jewish value system,” Gitelson said.
Schill said the university will always remain insistent on protecting the values of free speech; however, he said that there is no clear-cut line of when free speech has gone too far, such as the recent black face incidents at UO.
Drew Williams, a senior political science and religious studies major, agrees with Schill’s view on free speech.
“You really have to understand that freedom of speech is something that is essential to being American: for every group from every variety of the spectrum to be able to speak and state their opinions,” Williams said.
Darian Rosengard, a junior majoring in planning, public policy and management, appreciated Schill taking the time to talk about these issues in open conversation.
“It was interesting hearing him showing sympathy to what minorities face all the time and taking a step back and saying, ‘What questions do you have for me and what conversation can we have to be able to look at opposition and look at discomfort in a place of positivity?’ ” she asked.
Resources are available to students on campus, such as the Dean of Students website which has university policies against discrimination.
“I’ve heard a lot of incidents which have been very troubling at this university as well as at other universities, but what’s important is if there is intolerance, if there is racism, if there is xenophobia, the university wants to do what we can do to address it,” Schill said.