Letter to the Editor: Ungar-Sargon Chose to Leave Bard Conference
To the Editor,
As the assistant director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, I read Batya Ungar-Sargon’s recent column with dismay. She wrote: “But not one of my fellow speakers said a word. Two days later, I have not received a single note acknowledging what happened, which leaves me thinking they condone it.”
But I immediately found Ungar-Sargon after the panel that was protested, shook her hand, thanked her for her imminently reasonable comments and questions, and told her she handled the situation remarkably well.
I did not hear her conversation at the dinner for speakers on Thursday evening, but if she had found me in the room, or a number of other people, she would have found a sympathetic audience. She would have discovered that I, and several members of the administration, had spoken with the protesting students, told them that what they were doing was anti-Semitic, and that even though they had a right to protest, that they were encouraged not to. I personally had spent two hours in shul on Yom Kippur, the day before the conference, having this conversation with students. They were given the campus policy and they were told that if they violated it there would be consequences.
On Friday morning, I found her in the hall before her panel and told her I was sorry she felt like she had to leave the dinner. I told her that I had looked for her because I wanted to talk with her and that it would have been nice to have a drink together. She said: “I’m sorry too. I’m a fun person to be at a party with.” After she read her remarks and walked off stage, I stopped her again, shook her hand, thanked her for saying what she felt like she needed to say, and asked her to stay.
Ungar-Sargon chose to leave. She was not de-platformed. The conference went on, and I personally stepped in to lead the breakout session she was intended to host; we made it about the protests, so that conference participants could discuss what was happening. One of her co-panelists remained and spoke eloquently about the rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses, and asked what we can do to address these kinds of protests that try to de-platform Israeli and Jewish speakers.
By choosing to leave, Ungar-Sargon opted to protest, instead of remaining in the conference to have difficult conversations. She opted for call-out culture instead of critical engagement. Walking out of a room might look good on social media, but this kind of self-de-platforming is not going to move the conversation forward.
Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities
Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics