I recently discovered that even when events on campus seem like they couldn’t get any worse, there is always a glimmer of hope. Last week while helping students face divestment at University of California, Irvine, I met with a Latina student leader on campus, who made things seem not as bleak. Two years ago, I traveled to Israel with a group of Latina and Jewish students on a program called Building Latino-Jewish Bridges on Campus. I made some good friends on the trip, which made me understand the importance of building relationships with the Latino population.
When I visited UCI, a friend from the Building Bridges trip put me in contact with one of her sorority sisters in the Latina sorority at Irvine. I have to admit, with so much anti-Israel activity on campus, I didn’t know what to expect in our conversation. But as we began talking, I was impressed by how much she knew about what was happening in Israel, Operation Pillar of Defense and the divestment bill before student government. Until she met with me, she said she felt like she had only heard one side of the conflict. During our time together, she asked questions, seeking to gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the situation than what she had previously been exposed to.
Instead of defending Israel’s actions at the beginning of our conversation, I shared my experiences in Israel and with Israelis to show why the country is important to me. I felt like she related to my stories because she had similar experiences in her life.
After our meeting, I felt really good about our conversation. She appreciated that I took the time to get to know her and ensure that her questions were answered. She expressed interest in meeting and working with the Jewish sorority on campus and even potentially traveling to Israel on a trip similar to the one I went on.
Our conversation shows that even at a school like UCI, where one might think that no student would be interested in learning about Israel, there are still students who want to learn and question what they hear.
In other words, to change discourse around Israel, all you have to be willing to do is have a conversation with someone new!