Student Senate hosts discussion regarding inappropriate comment slipped in agenda

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On Tuesday, Nov. 12, Student Senate held a public discussion regarding an inappropriate comment printed in the agenda for a meeting held two weeks prior. 

The discussion was meant to provide a space for both senators and members of the Lehigh community to voice any concerns or emotions they had regarding the comment.

Student Senate formally apologized for the incident with a statement attached to a Nov. 5 email to students and faculty. 

The inappropriate comment, taking a jab at Palestine in the context of the long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine, was slipped by a senator into a bill requesting a hummus event for the Friends of Israel club. 

Mohsen Mahdawi, ‘22, and Senator John Levin, ‘20, gave opening statements at the discussion, both resenting the comment and addressing the right ways to go about handling the situation and bridging any gaps on campus. After their respective statements, the floor was open to discussion. 

Josh Rutzick, ‘21, is not a senator, but came to the meeting to voice his opinion. He was one of a handful of students not on Student Senate who attended, sitting in a row of chairs in the back of Linderman 200, as the senators were seated in a circle to discuss the incident. 

Rutzick spoke against Senate’s decision to send the email about the comment, and said the incident was rather isolated.

“There are more important issues that should be focused on, rather than drag out something that wasn’t that big of a deal,” he said. 

After the public discussion, Senate closed the doors for a private meeting about whether or not to take disciplinary action against the Senator who made the inappropriate comment.

Mahdawi requested Student Senate not to sanction the senator. He also asked that Senate release a transformative statement that brings up Palestine and apologizes to the people hurt, and make an adjustment to the bylaws to focus on an inclusive community and non-discriminative environment.

“This mistake that happened at Senate could affect the bridges building between the Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian communities,” Mahdawi said. “But this mistake could be a great opportunity to turn this issue from having negative results, to having positive results. We’re going to set an example of tolerance and forgiveness.”

Mahdawi is a reporter for The Brown and White.

The senator, left anonymous in the email, was placed on probation after the initial comment.

Senate’s Vice President of Communications Lucie Pascarosa, ‘22, said it would have been inappropriate for Senate not to respond to the comment, especially because it was insulting and had offended people. She also said the discussion about disciplinary action was rather difficult to deal with.

“From a leadership position, it was just sad that it was happening in my organization,” Pascarosa said. 

Will Constant, ‘21, Senate’s vice president of leadership, was disappointed with how everything unfolded.

“It hurt the image of what it means to be a Senator,” Constant said. “Moving forward, I want to work harder to make sure each Senator takes their role seriously.”

Constant said he wants senators to use their positions as an opportunity to be better people and better leaders on campus. 

This incident comes amidst a particularly turbulent week in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An exchange of rockets fired between Israel and Gaza has grabbed headlines over the last few days, after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza earlier in the week killed a senior commander of the Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed militant group.  

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