Scholar and poet Steven Salaita, a former associate professor of English at Virginia Tech University, will be on campus Thursday, Feb. 12, to discuss “Palestine, Civility and Academic Freedom” at 7 p.m. in Higley Hall auditorium. He also will conduct a talk titled “Palestine in Native Poetry” in Peirce Lounge at 11:10 a.m.
Salaita recently became the center of a controversy when the University of Illinois rescinded a job offer to him after deeming some of his tweets were anti-Semitic. The situation was widely covered in the media, and Salaita has since sued the university.
Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine (KSJP) jumped at the chance to have Salaita, author of several books, including Anti-Arab Racism in the USA, speak about his experience with freedom of speech in academia. “[Salaita] lost his whole livelihood because the discourse on Palestine is so heavily restricted,” said Sarah Gold ’15, co-president of KSJP.
Gold, an international studies major from Arlington, Virginia, continued, “We have some flexibility [at Kenyon] to choose our classes, but a lot of times people become complacent and fail to think about the politics beneath this whole system that we’re living in. It’s important for people to go to this because we need to know what exactly is going on.”
Once she heard KSJP would be bringing Salaita to campus — an effort made in conjunction with a student group at Oberlin College — Janet McAdams, the Robert P. Hubbard Professor in Poetry, arranged for him to discuss his studies in poetry as well. McAdams knew Salaita when she taught at the University of Oklahoma, and the two have stayed in touch for years.
McAdams said the subject of academic freedom should concern all students and faculty at Kenyon. “When speech comes under assault on campuses, it is minority discourses that perhaps are most under fire,” she said. “Maybe it’s a particularly important time to validate the many diverse kinds of literatures and cultures.”
Katie Hardiman ’15, a KSJP executive board member and religious studies major from Mount Kisco, New York, added that his poetry talk will be “a great opportunity to hear voices that are often silenced in a very different way than Salaita’s.”
By Madeleine Thompson '15