I was traveling across Florida over the past week and was able to visit Miami, Boca, Tampa, and Gainesville. I have not visited so many new places and schools in one trip, and my travels reminded me that each campus and its students are unique. Every school has its own culture. When I arrive, I try to take a moment to be open, curious, and inquisitive, in an effort to tap into the character of the campus. I see this as a crucial step in my work as a Campus Coordinator: I fit myself into the campus environment, which allows me to delve into the campus dynamics and give students the best guidance given the realities on the ground. When I meet with students it is so important that I am sensitive to their needs and view of campus. Showing students that I understand where they are coming from is a step toward gaining their trust and respect and makes my guidance so much more valuable to them. We can then work together as genuine partners to help their Israel advocacy efforts and engagement at their schools.
At The University of Miami, I met with a student leader who reminded me that it is important to understand the campus environment and trust the possibility of students connecting with one another. As I began talking with the student about Israel branding on campus, he looked at me and asked, “Is that really what we are doing? Is it not about trusting in the power of human interactions, so that I can connect with another person and help others trust me enough to see Israel through my personal lens?”
At other schools, talking about Israel as a brand might help build support for Israel or connect students together. At The University of Miami - a diverse school that emphasizes openness to individual differences through questioning, curiosity, and interpersonal relations - things are different. Only once I spoke the student leader's language were we able to brainstorm together about how to advocate for Israel on campus.
Being a part of the Israel advocacy community means recognizing that every level of this work hinges on connections. After all, how can I ask students to connect with their peers if I don’t try to connect with them as well?
As professionals in this field, we are doing ourselves a favor by meeting the students where they are. It is so easy to get caught up in tangibles and benchmarks that we can easily lose sight of the human component of this work. I know that I am in this field not only to create more positive and nuanced campus discourse around Israel, but also to help shape, mentor, and partner with students who are a part of this movement. Taking on this role is one of the most special parts of this work and, in many ways, I believe matters just as much as our end goal.