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Cal Poly abruptly postpones its annual Social Justice Teach In 

After Cal Poly announced a last-minute postponement of the eighth annual Social Justice Teach In, some faculty members decided to host a similar event anyway.

On Feb. 20—the original teach-in was slated for Feb. 15—a coalition of Cal Poly's faculty and staff hosted a Justice for Palestine-themed series of discussions, film screenings, and art events in the Berg Gallery.

click to enlarge BIRDS FOR GAZA Cal Poly students participated in a community art project that aims on crafting unique paper birds to remember children killed in Gaza. - PHOTO COURTESY BY SAMANTHA HERRERA
  • Photo Courtesy By Samantha Herrera
  • BIRDS FOR GAZA Cal Poly students participated in a community art project that aims on crafting unique paper birds to remember children killed in Gaza.

Assistant Vice President of Communications and Media Relations Matt Lazier told New Times that the annual teach-in event is a university-sponsored program aimed at featuring a variety of talks and workshops highlighting social justice and equity.

"The university chose to move the date of this year's event back a bit in order to give organizers more time to bring in additional speakers and perspectives to the overall programming," he said.

The original event was supposed to hold 50 panels and workshops with topics on reproductive justice, science and technology, and Palestine.

Plant Science Professor Ashraf Tubeileh told New Times that with the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some faculty members thought Feb. 20 would be a good time to spread awareness about what's happening in Gaza.

On Oct. 7, 2023, the political and military organization Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization and has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007, bombed and attacked Israel, kidnapping 250 and killing at least 1,200 Israelis, according to the Associated Press. Israel responded to the attack with a bombing campaign and ground invasion, and as of Feb. 19, the Associated Press reported that more than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed.

"Given the situation in Gaza and given the genocide that is happening over there and mixed with the lack of reaction from the U.S. with the genocide, we thought this would be a golden opportunity to raise awareness when we can get the attention of the students and the campus community to what's going on in Gaza," he said.

The event was open to the public and those who attended had the option to craft paper birds, have a Middle Eastern lunch, speak with faculty, and watch a screening of 1948: Creation & Catastrophe, a documentary that includes personal recollections from Palestinians and Israelis who lived during that time.

"The Birds of Gaza has been an initiative across different places in different campuses," Tubeileh said. "In the U.S. and the U.K. and other places. Each bird basically documents every child that is killed in Gaza. With student participation, we had over 100 birds drawn yesterday."

While the initial teach-in was finalized and posted in early January, faculty received a joint email on Feb. 8 from Interim Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Denise Isom and College of Liberal Arts Dean Phillip J. Williams announcing that they were rescheduling the eighth annual teach-in to May 9.

"We have chosen to postpone the teach-in, in an effort to think critically about how to best provide educational, dialectic, and processing spaces surrounding the many complex issues of the day and ensuring this year's teach-in exemplifies the strength of higher education as a 'marketplace of ideas,'" the email states. "Our responsibility as an institution of higher ed is to lead with education and scholarly discourse, but we also strive to center care and endeavor for our academic pursuits to address the needs for restorative engagement, community gathering, and transformational dialogue as individuals, communities, and our institution as a whole."

Even though the university did not sponsor the events that took place on Feb. 20, Tubeileh said that turnout was good.

"Given that the university didn't sponsor this event and made it really hard for us to find a better location that would be more central for students to come, I think we did great with attendance," he said.

Tubeileh said he and other faculty members feel that the university postponed the event to limit the backlash from pro-Israel community members. Tubeileh also said that everyone had an opportunity to put in a teaching request, including those who are pro-Israel, but they didn't take the opportunity to do so.

"I think the university was just bowing down to that pressure and they didn't want too much exposure and maybe didn't want to have lots of attendance for this event so they can avoid backlash," he said. "That way the university can say that they did what they could to prevent this from happening and minimize, limit attendance." Δ


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