On September 7, the Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service sponsored their first speaker, Todd Holmstrom, who discussed Middle East Diplomacy. He was introduced by his daughter, Alina Holmstrom (19’), who is a double major in International Studies and French. Holmstrom is currently assigned as the Director of Israel and Palestine Union Affairs at the Department of State in Washington. Over his career, Holmstrom has served in six countries on five continents. He has had three diplomatic posts abroad and specializes in the Middle East.
While he was serving in the army, Holmstrom fell in love with Middle East.
“If I was never sent to the Middle East as a soldier I probably would have never went… I fell in love with the region. I found it to be an incredibly unique, rich and exciting place to live, explore and come to understand.”
Holmstrom emphasized the importance of empowering individuals who share the same democratic values we do in the United States. He told a story of a young girl in the Middle East who attended one of his lectures and described herself as a civil activist. Holmstrom told us a few years before no one would talk about politics or service because it was a death sentence. Yet that moment was proof that customs were beginning to change.
My mother immigrated to the United States from Iraq when she was seven years old with her family. My grandparents told their neighbors and youngest children that they were going on vacation. In reality, it was so the Iraqi government would not detain them. Once they arrived in Egypt, my mother found out they were going to wait there until they obtained a VISA to enter America.
Although my mother has not gone back to Iraq since fleeing, she visited Turkey with my father five years ago. She described the strife between the conservative and liberal Muslims as a fight between generations. Young people were protesting, knowing they were going to be tear-gassed by the government. Their parents were begging for them not to protest because they feared for their children’s lives.
This reminded her of the strife that was developing in Iraq before they left. Her home used to be a place where different people and beliefs could live, but as time passed, individuals’ voices were silenced and violence rose. To this day, she associates silence with the pain and suffering many people in the Middle East are faced with.
As I watch the news with her, she reminds me that I never have the right to silence someone no matter how much I disagree with his or her beliefs. She reminds me that silence is truly the root of all evil.
As I walk around campus, I am proud of the groups that have stood up to support the DACA students. I myself, am a part of a community that has faced members being deported by ICE. I have heard stories and empathized with the heartbreak many of the members in my community face. Yet, I cannot help but worry as I think of my mother’s fear and Holmstrom’s story of the girl. Holmstrom reminds us that we need to empower individuals who believe in democracy, yet we are not cultivating a democracy on our own campus.
President Ditzler sent an email on September 7 that said, “The Albion College I am proud of is a place that embraces every student. It is a place where we debate political policy in direct, face-to-face venues. We do so in a respectful, civil and affirming manner.”
That statement is the ideal Albion, but unfortunately it is not the Albion many students and I know. I have not done enough research to form an opinion on the DACA decision, but I know that I have never experienced an Albion where we can debate political policy. I have never been in a classroom that promotes political discussion from both perspectives. I have never been aware of an opportunity that allowed educators and students to engage in an unbiased moderated discussion.
My mother’s biggest fear is individuals being silenced, and as I walk around our campus, I see her fear coming to life. Our campus leader believes that Albion is a place where we can have open discussions about public policy and that terrifies me. I have yet to talk to a Republican on this campus that feels that way.
Empowering each other to have political conversations is key to democratic freedom, yet our leaders on campus do not lead by example. Republican’s opinions and beliefs are actively devalued in the classroom. Worse yet, professors devalue my womanhood because of my beliefs. To this day, many of my friends and I joke about the professors who remind us that they have no respect for women who voted for President Trump. These are the same professors who remind us that we do not know their stories and heartache. Yet, they often forget they do not know our stories either. That is the environment Albion is cultivating.
We are a nation that believes in democracy, yet every day we silence a portion of our campus we are putting that democracy at risk. It seems as if our President sits in his office and looks upon our campus with rose colored glasses because the Albion he sees is not the Albion I live in. What do you expect to happen at night when leaders spend the day devaluing, degrading and undermining other people’s opinions?
My mother fears silence and Holmstrom reminds us that empowering conversation is key to success in the Middle East. Maybe the key to Albion is learning how to talk about different sides of politics instead of painting a rock. If we learned that we can understand each other’s opinions without having to agree with them maybe we could cultivate the environment our President sees when he looks at Albion from his office. Maybe when we learn how to talk to each other we will not have so much heartache over a rock. That is the Albion I hope to see one day, but please stop pretending that is the Albion we are.