So Much for Empathetic Listening

by James A. Bacon

Militant students and faculty at the University of Virginia — and elsewhere — often talk about having “hard conversations” about the tragic realities in Gaza. To see what those “conversations” sound like, click on the video above.

It was hard alright — hard for President Jim Ryan. The students had no interest in confronting any discomfiting truths themselves.

The Daily Progress has the back story.

Ryan had an appointment on his calendar for more than a month with UVA Apartheid Divest, a coalition of 43 student groups demanding that UVA divest endowment assets from any company doing business with Israel. He entered Pavilion VI on the Lawn, accompanied by Chief Student Affairs Officer Kenyon Bonner and Dean of Students Cedric Rucker, expecting the meeting he had agreed to. But the students had other ideas.

“President Ryan, your students are waiting for you outside,” they said. They stepped out of the room and onto the Lawn where 30 classmates had gathered. Many had red paint on their hands, symbolizing blood.

Fifth-year student Najwa Labban began reading a statement denouncing statements Ryan had made in a recent “town hall” accusing him of lying about his actions in shutting down the “liberated zone” for Gaza. Then the crowd erupted into chants.

“35,000 dead, you’re arresting kids instead.”

“Jim Ryan, you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide.”

Ryan has spoken often about engaging in civil dialogue and empathetic listening. But there was no chance here to engage in dialogue of any kind. The students had no interest in listening, empathetic or otherwise. Ryan, Bonner and Rucker simply walked away.

How did students explain their behavior?

“President Ryan’s actions were so inexcusable that there was no way we could have a good faith conversation with him after he refused to engage in good faith with students protesting peacefully for Palestine,” said Josh Rosenberg, the third-year student and head of Students for Justice in Palestine who spoke on behalf of UVa Apartheid Divest.

“The meeting wasn’t going to yield any results,” Eli Weinger, a second-year student also representing UVa Apartheid Divest, told The Daily Progress. “If he is willing to lie in front of 3,000 people in a town hall, he’d be willing to lie in a closed-door meeting with five students.”