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Ally Landau, Speaking Freely: A Campus Conversation

Updated: Jan 25

Ally Landau is a senior at Haverford College majoring in a Psychology. Recently, she hosted a student teach-in following the October 7th terrorist attacks to share her viewpoint and initiate dialogue amongst the student body.


Hilles Hall, where Ally held her student teach-in.

In recent weeks, Ally has been singled out for sharing her opinions. 


A list of demands sent to the Haverford College administration by student activists called out Ally by name for sending an email to the hc-allstudents listserv titled “Silenced Jewish Voices.” Ally sent her email in the wake of fall Plenary, one of two annual meetings of the entire Haverford student body — hosted by Students' Council — to ratify student governance documents and propose new policies.


This year's fall Plenary included a "community comment" period, where members of Students for Justice in Palestine spoke about the Israel-Hamas War. The title of Ally's email reflected the fact that no response from a differing point of view was aired during this section of Plenary. Her email generated controversy on campus, with students upset her email had been allowed and administrators apologizing for approving it. In the ensuing aftermath, Students’ Council and the administration modified the hc-allstudents listserv policy to prevent similar emails from being sent in the future.


Amidst all this, I sat down with Ally to seek her uncensored opinions about free speech and the openness of discourse at Haverford College.


Here is a barely-edited transcript of our conversation.


 

In your email to the student body, you reference how Students’ Council denied students from responding to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)'s monologue at Plenary. Could you share more details about that?



Yeah, so I think what happened was that I was not planning on saying anything in the “community comment” section of Plenary initially. It was just intimidating to go and speak in front of the entire student body, but once four different people stood up and started talking about their pro-Palestinian beliefs, I decided I wanted to respond. The problem was that I had not signed up beforehand to speak in the “community comment” section. 




So I went over and talked to Dean McKnight, during plenary, while it was happening, and he messaged [Students’ Council Co-President] Jorge [Paz Reyes] asking if [he] could extend [the “community comment” section] so that I could give a response or something like that. Jorge didn't see the message until after Plenary ended, or maybe he did — 

I don't know. You'd have to ask him if he saw it or not, but [the “community comment”] wasn't extended and I wasn't given the opportunity to respond. So I decided to write [an] email [to the whole student body] as my response instead. 



Ok. I'm curious if you happen to know any details about whether or not the SJP “community comment” was planned in advance, since you weren’t able to speak since you hadn’t signed up beforehand. 




I don't know, I haven't spoken to them specifically. It seemed planned to me just because they had [a] PowerPoint projection. They had four different people all speaking. We've never really had a “community comment” section before in Plenary in the years I've been here. 



This was the first time it was really sort of happening like that. So it did seem planned. I mean, I had asked a few other people, I have friends on the Students’ Council, if there were any parts of the Plenary that were gonna be about the Israel Palestine situation. And they all told me no, but so I don't know for sure, so you'd have to ask them, I guess. 



Okay. And in your email you mentioned a concern about the one-sidedness of the viewpoint presented during that section of Plenary. 



Yeah. 



And so I'm curious about how you feel the response to your email was, both from the administration and the student body. 



Yeah, so I guess right after the email was sent, I was anticipating backlash. Of course, I knew a lot of people on campus didn't agree with me. Most of the negative backlash was pretty indirect. A lot of it was just people screenshotting it and writing stuff on social media, or like a few DMs that I got that were somewhat negative, but nothing too extreme at least, at least not directly towards me. 



There were also a lot of positives. I had a lot of people email me back saying that they appreciated the email that they felt heard, and they were too afraid to speak out themselves, but they were the large ones that they want alone, and stuff like that. 



That was a positive outcome of it. I also was appreciative that the administration did actually let the email go through in communication with them. The reasoning behind it was because the student council had previously sent out an hc-allstudents listserv email regarding their walkout advertising it. 




So they were in my conversation with you tonight. The rationale was that they were allowed to advertise that, which was about the situation that I too was allowed to send my email. Recently, I spoke with some people on student council who told me that in part of their demands in response to the email, it wasn't necessarily directly at the content of my email, but more about the fact that it was even approved because the hc-allstudents email shouldn't be, like the rules behind it, it shouldn't have been approved to begin with. 




But like I said, I think the reason it wasn't because the Students’ Council had already used the hc-allstudents listserv to promote their side of it. So I think they wanted to sort of like even it out, I guess, so to speak. Sorry, what was the second part of your question? 




Well, yeah, I was just kind of wondering where your concerns stand now. Like, the initial response and if you have any new thoughts about where things are headed. 



Well, I had already given the teach-in before I sent the email, and I think the teach-in and the email initially — even though I did get some backlash — I was happy with how [they] went, and I was proud that I was able to say what I wanted to say. 



Then more recently, of course, the demands came out, and my name was specifically put in the list of demands, which I thought was inappropriate, especially since they were saying that their problem was with administration allowing the email to be sent rather than the content of the email itself. 



So [while] we did convince them to take my name out of the demands, which I appreciated, everyone already [saw] my name, and everyone knows the references to the hc-allstudents listserv are obviously in regard to me. 



I think the difficult part is that the demands came out right after Kinnan and his friends were shot, and a lot of their advertising of it and asking people to sign it was that you were standing in solidarity with Kinnan and the hate crime that he suffered. 




And I think that if that was what all of the demands were about, then I gladly would have signed, and I would love to show my support for that, but the fact that it was combined with all this other stuff including my email and asking the administration to make a political statement saying that Israel is at fault for an apartheid state makes it much more difficult to kind of show that I can support Kinnan. 




And even like perhaps call for a ceasefire, but that's not what they're actually saying in the demands, which is a bit unfortunate that a lot of people are signing under the pretense that it's just in support of a ceasefire when in reality the demands specifically state that they want Haverford to condemn Israel for being an apartheid state. 



So I think my biggest concern right now is people being pressured to sign based on false pretenses of what the demands actually are. And I think that's also going to make it a lot more difficult for the administration to sign off on the demands and for us to move forward because it's not just about the ceasefire or just about Kinnan or just about academics. 
You can see there's all these other things grouped into it, which makes it much more difficult to find a solution, I think. 




Right. One thing I've noticed throughout your responses is you have said a number of times that the Students' Council and the administration claim their objections to your email are not about the content or the viewpoint of your message. However, I've read some things to the contrary. In the lengthier Google Doc with the demands’ fine print, but also on social media and more informal spaces, there has been a lot of conflations connecting your words — sometimes referencing you by name — to Islamophobic rhetoric or other charged rhetoric out there they say is responsible for the hate crime against Kinnan and his friends. 

So, I'm curious if you really believe that you aren't being singled out for your viewpoint. 



Yeah, I think that I've heard a lot of that stuff too as well — that my email bore a direct relation to the crime that Kinnan and his friends experienced, which I think is just wildly inaccurate. First of all, the man who shot them was not Jewish. 
He didn't go to Haverford. He never read my email. Second of all, I don't think my email was Islamophobic. I think the main things I've heard from people who disagreed with it was that they thought the word “hijacking” was inflammatory [as well as] the word “fringe” in regards to Jewish Voice for Peace. 


I mean, I won't apologize for anything I wrote. 

I wouldn't have sent it if I didn't believe it. If other students had read it beforehand and they had told me, look, the word “hijacking” in particular is one that is really aggravating, 
I could have found a different word. I can't think of one on the spot right now, [but] I think the point of my email that I was hoping to get across and the part that I was expecting backlash from did not actually [correspond to the response]. 



They were just singling out that one word, which was not what I was expecting at all, to be honest. So yeah, I thought that it's very inaccurate to say that my email is the reason for Kinnan being shot. 



And if you are going to say that, then they should specify the actual content of the email, not just one specific word that they have a problem with, like "hijacking," which is the main thing that I've been hearing from people. 



That's interesting. That relates to one of the other things I wanted to ask about. I see now that the Students' Council and the administration are working through revising the hc-allstudents listserv policy. And I'm curious if you have any thoughts about that. 



Yeah, I actually don't know what the initial policy was. I don't know what they're trying to change it to. I really don't know any of the specifics on that. All I know is when I wanted to send my email, I sent it to the Students’ Council first and they said I had to send it to Dean McKnight to get approved. 




So I sent it to him and then it was approved and sent. I have no idea what the actual policy is on which emails are allowed to be sent or not. I actually probably should look into that a bit more. Cause yeah, all I've heard is that Dean McKnight approving my email to be sent went against the policy, but I don't know exactly what the policy was or what was violated. 



Interesting. So I have the text of the policy available for reference. 



Okay, yeah. 



So, this is an updated policy just to be clear, but it went into effect on December 1st. So this is kind of, I guess, in response to your email. And so it wouldn't have been in effect back then. But one of the things that it says is that "when deciding if an email breaks the policies and practices described above, the decision of rejecting the email will also be made in accordance with the following excerpts from section 3.04, subsection B of the Honor Code.: 'Using one's political beliefs to justify disrespectful or discriminatory words or actions is a violation of the code. And also respect entails a mutual regard for others, [...]'” 



Yeah. 




So I'm curious, given that from my vantage point, it seems like a lot of pro-Palestinian protesters find pro-Israel students' comments to be in some way Islamophobic or promoting violence — I mean, there's been rhetoric that's connecting your email to what happened to Kinnan — and so some find it disrespectful or even discriminatory. Likewise, certainly a lot of the pro-Palestinian protesters have had some of the speech they've engaged in, such as "from the river to the sea," called out as anti-Semitic or at least as insensitive. 

So I'm curious if you have any concerns about the email policy. Do you think that under this new policy, you would be able to send out the email you sent back then? And do you think that's a problem? 

You know, I mean, what do you think about saying you can only send an email if your political beliefs won't offend anyone? 


Yeah, I mean, yeah, I think you nailed it on the nose of the fact that the pro-Palestinian group believes that a lot of stuff in my email is potentially Islamophobic. And then there's the Jewish students who believe that a lot of the rhetoric that the pro-Palestinian group is using is anti-Semitic. 




It goes both ways. I think the difference is that I specifically pointed out the direct terms that I found to be anti-Semitic, like "from the river to the sea" or "genocide," and those terms specifically. In regards to my email, the only thing that I've heard back from anyone is that the word "hijacking" [in the context of students imposing their viewpoint during the "community comment" period of Plenary] was the most inflammatory part, which I didn't initially even think about. 



I didn't relate that [word] to Islamophobia at all in my initial writing of it. I think maybe if with this new policy they had wanted to say that my political beliefs were justifying discrimination of certain people, it would have to pinpoint which parts those were, and right now that pinpoint is that word, "hijacking. "


So maybe if I had changed that word, it still would have been allowed to be sent. I'm not sure what else would have been seen as Islamophobic, seeing as nobody has given me any specifics [in regards to] that. 



So yeah, I do think it's interesting or difficult to say like you can't send an email where your political beliefs might offend someone because any political belief of any topic relating to politics is gonna offend someone. 



So it's difficult to say, but regarding my email specifically, I have not heard any specific details about which parts were Islamophobic, just that the word hijacking was inflammatory. So maybe if I had taken out that one word, it still would have been allowed to be sent with this new policy. 



That's interesting. You mentioned the teach-in you did earlier. So I'm curious what prompted you to hold that teach-in, what was your Kronstadt moment that made you want to speak out and engage in dialogue? 



Yeah, well, right after the, the, the, of an October 7th, I met with Wendy, I think, a day or two later after she had sent her email about it. And I was asking her if she could send a follow -up email specifically condemning Hamas and acknowledging that they are a terrorist organization, which in my talks with Kinnan and other pro-Palestinian people, they've all agreed to that. 



That's not something that we really disagree on at all. So I thought it was fair for me to ask Wendy to do that. And she said she had no intention of sending another email. So I said, well, I still want to get this point across. 



I know there was already a teach-in planned with Barak Mendelssohn, but I wanted to give my own teach-in to really get my personal points across. And she said, "yeah," like she encouraged me to do it. 


And so I planned that. Initially, I was just planning on presenting [myself] and then having a Q&A. 


I did a lot of research. I spoke with a lot of my teachers from home, professors from here, looked through the Haverford database, all that stuff, and put together a presentation. 




And [when I was] advertising for it, Kinnan saw my post on Instagram and reached out to me. We had a few phone calls, exchanged a lot of messages, just about our different beliefs, stuff like that. 




And he asked us at the end of my presentation, he'd be allowed to come up and give his perspective. And I said, of course, so it was kind of this joint thing where I gave my presentation, he gave his and then everyone asked questions. 



And I think it was a very good starting point, [with regard to] everyone understanding that there was a different perspective to [the conflict than] and just conversing about it. I thought it was a very respectful teach-in. 
Everyone who came was there to listen and learn, and obviously provide their own perspective too, but that's kind of what I wanted from it, is to have that dialogue. So I thought it was a good start. 



And then I think after hearing things at Plenary, I just wanted to make my points heard even louder, or more specifically, by a broader segment of the campus community, which is why I then sent the email afterwards as well. 



Given the fact you were able to have that open dialogue at your teach-in with Kinnan, with other perspectives represented, how do you feel about the juxtaposition with plenary, where only one point of view was presented, and with a controversy erupting over your email seeking to provide a second kind of viewpoint to the whole student body? 



Yeah, I think, I mean, it's difficult. Haverford loves to say that we pride ourselves on dialogue, on conversation, and like, I've seen quotes in newspapers like that have said, well, if liberal arts campuses can't find a way to get past this, then nobody can, and stuff like that, which in a sense is true. 



I mean, these are our core values, and obviously with a topic as controversial, and impactful as this is, it's gonna be more difficult, of course. I mean, I think it could have been more well received if I had made my points at Plenary rather than in the email. But like I said, I hadn't initially planned on saying anything at Plenary because of course, it's intimidating being in a room full of people that the majority of whom disagree with you. 




And I only wanted to say something in response just to show that there was another perspective. But yeah, I think having the teaching before all of this other email and demands and everything else happened at least showed that I was willing to have dialogue, which I think maybe made it a little bit more well received. 



And I've attended all of the, or as many of the school sanctioned presentations and discussions that I've been able to, including the ones which were led only by pro-Palestinian professors, just to show that I am trying to gain that other perspective and hear people out. 



So I think that that was definitely a good way to kind of show that. Unfortunately, I think people still don't wanna fully have that dialogue because they know how firm I am in my beliefs based on the email. 


So I think it was beneficial to have it, but I don't know how much good it actually has done. 




I was also curious if you heard from any administrators or faculty members in the lead up to your teach-in, particularly since Professor Mendelsohn received suggestions to modify or suspend his faculty teach-in from administrators.


Yeah, no, [I didn’t]. I think because I was just advertising it on my own social media, it wasn't really well known that it was happening. So no professors reached out to me until afterwards when there was an article in the clerk about it. 



And then also after I'd sent my email, a lot of, not a lot, but faculty had reached out to me just offering their support or if there was someone who agreed with me just wanting to converse with me about it and stuff like that. 



But in the lead up to the teaching, I hadn't spoken with any faculty at Haverford. I did reach out to some of my teachers from high school and some people I knew from my community back home just to kind of proofread my presentation and like fact check, but nobody from Haverford beforehand, just after the fact. 



I was curious if you saw the petition circulating seeking to have Professor Mendelsohn sanctioned or fired. If so, what are your thoughts about it in relation to free speech? 



Yeah, I think, I mean, of course, Professor Mendelsohn has made his beliefs very clear through his posts on social media. And I think that if he were to have said those things in his teach-in that he gave in October, soon after the event, that would have been a different story and people might have had more of a reason to call for action. 
[Editor's note: for an interview with Professor Mendelsohn which addresses these events, please see this article in The New Kronstadt: "Barak Mendelsohn, Uncensored: A Campus Conversation."]


I think the fact that he's doing it on his own personal Twitter accounts or in response to specific student emails [makes it out of bounds] to call for him to be fired, whether you agree with him or not. 



Obviously, I've spoken with him a lot in the past few months. There's plenty of stuff we agree on, plenty of stuff we disagree on. I think the fact that a lot of the demand writers are advocating for free speech and then [calling] for his dismissal is a little bit hypocritical, especially because he's been doing it on his own personal platforms. 



He hasn't been doing it — at least not that I've heard of — within his classrooms or the teach-in he gave. I'm not in any of his classes, so I actually don't know specifically, but I think that would be a different story. 



But all of the stuff that I've been seeing has just been from his Twitter accounts or personal emails, responding to people, which I don't think is good enough, or is a good enough reason to ask for him to be fired. 




I mean, that's his own personal viewpoint, which he's completely allowed to have as long as it's not compromising the way he interacts with his students in his class or grades or papers or stuff like that. 



You mentioned something that stood out to me: the hypocrisy of the demands on the subject of free speech, particularly while simultaneously calling for a professor to be fired. 
I was just curious if you had any more thoughts on that. And what are your feelings about free speech for those who disagree with you? 



Yeah, I think that one of my biggest issues with the demands is that when I read the first two demands, I was pretty optimistic. I was like, yeah, I can get on board with this. And then it started to seem like, oh, we only want free speech when it's about our beliefs or something like that, which I think is just, like, you can't make that point if you're gonna call for free speech. 




It has to be for everyone, whether you agree with them or not. I mean, of course, there's restrictions within free speech, specifically right now, there's the postering policy that there seems to be violations of, or in their case, the violations of the hc-allstudents listserv email being sent out. So there's obviously restrictions in place, but to say that people shouldn't be allowed to say certain things just because it disagrees with them is not free speech at all. 



That's not what free speech is, like, in its definition. So I think that one of my biggest concerns is that they're calling for free speech, but if you look at the fine print, it's really only free speech for their point of view. 



And what would you like to say to people — especially students — who are too afraid to speak out right now, either alongside you, sharing your viewpoint, or those who might be too intimidated to talk to you knowing that they don't share your viewpoint? 



Yeah, I guess to the people who do share similar viewpoints and are too afraid to speak out, I mean, it's understandable. It's difficult to have to defend your beliefs, especially if you feel that you don't have enough knowledge to fully defend it. 




But what I would say is that I think we have a unique opportunity being at Haverford in the sense that I have never felt a sense of physical violence from anyone. Most people, even if they do very much disagree with me, don't pose a threat in a sense, but in a physical sense at least to me. 



And I think that gives us the opportunity to speak our minds without having to be too fearful. So I would encourage people to educate themselves and say what they believe. And then to the people who disagree with me, I guess I would just say, I think there's two groups within the people who disagree with me. 




I think there's the people who are joining on the bandwagon because they don't necessarily know any better. They've been told, oh, we're calling for a ceasefire, we're in solidarity with Kinnan, and that's about it. 



So I would encourage those people to really read through the entirety of the demands and form their own opinions, as well as do some more research about the whole Israel-Palestine conflict in general before forming an opinion. 




And then to those who obviously have done plenty of research are personally affected and very much disagree with me, [I would invite them to talk]. I think Kinnan is a perfect example. He has reached out to me, and we've had productive conversations. 



Obviously, neither one of us is gonna change the other's mind, but just to have that conversation, I think if more people could follow his lead, it would be great. He was the one that was most significantly impacted, so if he can do it, then why [can’t] everyone else reach out and converse. The goal is not to change each other's minds, but to find commonalities. 


 

— William Harris, for The New Kronstadt (Dec 18, 2023)

William Harris '24 is a current student at Haverford College.
 

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