NICAR 2017 Reflection

NICAR – National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting conference is a program run by the the IRE, Investigative Reporters and Editors, through the Missouri School of Journalism.

As newspapers go under and cries of “FAKE NEWS” diminish the integrity of the media, there are a number of powerfully-burning questions pending for the journalism industry. The 21st century has left the fourth estate challenged with fighting peoples’ shrinking attention spans and tendencies to either mistrust or overstep honest efforts by journalists, though many strive to be free of bias and understand the ideology and responsibility behind being a member of the news media. I’ve had too many fearful thoughts about the future of my career in the past month, until delving deeper into the data journalism world at the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting conference in Jacksonville last weekend.

I observed and learned the strategies of data teams at influential publications like the Washington Post, New York Times, Texas Tribune, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

Dan Keating (left) and Jeremy Singer-Vine (right) of the Washington Post and Buzzfeed News data teams led one of my favorite sessions about “unsung” datasets and databases, discussing ways to uncover new or unseen sources of public information.

I spoke with members of investigative organizations who do much of the digging into tomorrow’s next government controversy. I discovered that the blurred overlap of what we should and should not believe out of the news media is sharpening as journalists learn new ways to make information more and more accessible. They engage in endless fights for government transparency through the Freedom of Information act; WaPo data editor Steven Rich has literally filed the same FOIA request 1,033 times, he shared in his lightning talk, each time hoping the police department will give him more. A researcher at Fusion GPS (Global Research, Political Analysis, Strategic Insight), an investigative organization involved with finding ties between Russia and Trump administration officials, does not have social media in order to keep a low profile. At NICAR, I was able to unquestionably see an advanced wave of journalism, full of innovative and inspired thought. I’ve always been told by my professors that the news media is not dying, it’s changing, but I think “adapting” is a better way to put it. We’re discovering ways to take spreadsheets upon megabytes of data and find stories and build narratives out of institutional examination, all while creating gorgeous and interactive ways online for audiences to visualize data. In data journalism lie the solutions to multiple issues facing the news industry; traditional print alone (of any kind) cannot thrive in the age of Internet, and journalists have figured out what can.

One of the conference lightning talks – short, 5-minute topic presentations – showed the development of NICAR since its inaugural year in 1993.

NICAR is jump-starting the crucial next step for journalism education: data journalism concentrations and courses at universities. Not even the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern has established an undergraduate data track, I learned while talking to senior from the school, which was ranked as one of the top 20 journalism schools in the country. News organizations do not want to hire reporters without data skillsets, much of the time expecting them to know how to code their own websites and build meaningful information graphics by the time they leave college. A data track at Temple would push the School of Media and Communication far beyond many other undergraduate journalism programs, adapting students to an internet- and information-centric media environment that is our industry’s reality. Data journalists will have the greatest impact on the media community, moving us back to purely fact-based practices from reporters who dedicate themselves to the public and take pride in truthfulness, even if their work is behind the scenes.

Though I’m only in my second year of college, I have a good image of my future because of this opportunity to understand the direction of the journalism industry, which is undoubtedly ascending. I am immensely grateful to have a professor like Jillian Bauer, who is always looking for ways to help students adapt to journalism’s changing methods. As for the “war” between the Trump administration and the news media, I’m confident in journalists’ secret weapon, data, the purest form of fact.

Ironically enough, there was a pro-Trump rally at the Jacksonville Landing, right next door to NICAR. My classmate Anh and I were on our way to lunch with a Philly-based digital mapping organization when we heard the rally and decided to observe. Click on the photo to hear a local government official tell supporters not to listen to the “slipstream media.”

Thinking on Your Feet: An Expose on Foot Traffic at Temple

Video and article by Greta Anderson, Brianna Baker and Michaela Althouse for Audio/Visual Journalism class.

It takes less than 20 minutes to get from one end of Temple University’s campus to another by foot, making walking the most convenient method of transportation for many students. But poor infrastructure, accidents and crime pose a safety issue for walkers. To combat some of these problems, Temple Police are working to make the school a more walkable campus.

Sophomore Lihn Than walks because it allows her to appreciate the sights and sounds of Philadelphia. Especially in comparison to her home city of Hanoi, Vietnam,  one of the most polluted cities in the world, she enjoys the atmosphere of Philadelphia and the connection to nature.

“I’d been walking for over a year before I got my first bike,” Than said, “and I’ve learned so much more about the city and about the people and I’ve met so many more people; I talk to more more people than when I’m biking.”

30% of Center City residents commute by foot, most likely because of its compact size, simple grid layout and well-maintained sidewalks. However, walking around Temple is more difficult. Even though the city launched the Pedestrian and Bicycling Plan in 2012 to improve the convenience and attractiveness of Philadelphia’s walking channels, sidewalks in North Philly are often broken or missing pieces. Construction and parked cars on streets like the 1800 block of N. 17th St. block pedestrians’ paths and interfere with their view of traffic.

These obstacles become especially dangerous when traveling to and from campus at night. With the shortened winter days, it is more common for students to walk home in the dark. To compensate, students must stay more alert when crossing busy streets with limited visibility. Not only must they be considerate of cars, but also of fast-moving bikers and skateboarders.

Sophomore Alanna Watters was walking home with her friends a few weeks ago, when she collided with a skateboarder while crossing the street. Watters does not remember the accident itself, and is still receiving treatment from injuries sustained during the incident. Watters had cuts on her face and body, a mild concussion, neck problems and is currently seeing a neurologist.

“The cars are all parked really close to one another,” Watters said,  “so a lot of times it’s difficult to see past them when crossing the street.”

Watters happened to be traveling with friends who helped her home. When alone, however, Temple students are much more susceptible to armed theft or assault, another danger of walking. In 2014, 600 crimes were reported on campus. To address the school’s reputation of being unsafe, Temple Police introduced the walking escort program in 2013. Students can call an escort who will arrive within minutes to accompany or shadow them home. Joe Garcia is the Deputy Director of Administration for Temple Police.

“We can’t do anything about people’s ability to commit a crime,” Garcia said. “We can’t do anything about people’s desire to commit a crime. What we can do, however, is reduce or eliminate the opportunity for someone to commit a crime.”

In 2014, the police also expanded their patrol area to better serve students living off campus. Still, Garcia urges against walking alone and relying on pepper spray to protect against assailants. He also discourages talking to a friend or family member on the phone for comfort, since it makes one a target for theft. Instead, he strongly recommends that students utilize the walking escort program, as it helps the University police force with their job– to reduce the number of crimes occurring to walkers on and around campus.

Watters agrees, saying that the accident has not stopped her from walking. She feels it is up to the Temple students and community to making walking a more viable option.

“I think that as a Temple community we all need to work together,” Watters said, “both in automobiles and on any sort of wheels and by foot, just to keep each other safe, and to look both ways when crossing the street.”

Penn State Wrongfully Continues to Honor, Defend Paterno’s Actions

Op-Ed published in 2016 on

Fifty years ago from Saturday, Joe Paterno coached his first Penn State football game. Fifty years ago, before a statue was raised in his honor and an ice cream flavor was named for him. Before Paterno’s 30-year assistant Jerry Sandusky raped 10 young boys, some in the University’s own athletic complex bathrooms. Before Paterno was an enabler of child sexual abuse, allegedly ignoring a complaint from a young boy in 1971 who was raped by Sandusky.

Saturday commemorated the 50th anniversary of a head coach who was aware of and allowed for Sandusky’s continued abuse for almost the entirety of his head coaching career. He kept the secrets of the Penn State showers clouded and turned his back while Sandusky – his right-hand man on the football field – unapologetically had his way with children. As an outsider at Beaver Stadium Saturday, I witnessed an unworthy celebration.

The stadium blew up with unquestioning applause for Paterno twice, in the second and third quarters, as megatrons displayed his image and listed his contributions to Penn State. Fans gathered and prayed around a memorial where Paterno’s statue used to stand. The University, whose name is forever tarnished by the scandal, is trying to backtrack to a time when Paterno was an innocent part of the equation.

It’s another way Penn State administration is attempting to avoid the real issue. They go to great lengths to make sure all appears happy in Happy Valley. Many Penn State affiliates worship Paterno. They wear JoePa memorial T-shirts while walking hand in hand with their young daughters and sons, walking examples of denial.

Not only do they celebrate a child sexual abuse enabler, but the administration and affiliates continue to protect the delusional belief that nothing is wrong with it. Never is it acceptable to praise the character of m

an who abandoned abuse victims, no matter his number of wins or the weight of his contributions to the school. While Penn State did remove Paterno’s statue from outside the stadium four years ago many alumni still protest for its return.

At a fork in the scandal’s path in May, when it was revealed Paterno knew about the abuse since 1971, Penn State had two options: discontinue outward support for Paterno and potentially lose his ongoing scholarship donations and the thousands of fans who idolize him, or ignore his moral shortcomings and reap the financial benefits.

It’s impossible to put Paterno’s contributions into a single number, but they include millions and continue to grow with the financial success of the football team. With these consequences in mind, the University attempts to quiet the critics.

Some of those critics Saturday included Penn State students themselves, and a small patch of Temple cherry in Beaver Stadium for the game. I was sitting in the Temple section, where students actively protested the celebration. Four students held a banner that read “He turned his back, we’ll turn ours #JoePaKnew” and almost the entire section put their backs to the stadium during the two-minute megatron clips.

Temple students protested the dedication to Paterno during the Temple versus Penn State football game in September 2016. Stadium officials attempted to remove the banner.
Temple students protested the dedication to Paterno during the Temple versus Penn State football game in September 2016. Stadium officials attempted to remove the banner.

During halftime, the banner caused some fierce language and physical interaction between a Penn State and two Temple fans. Though the students with the banner were uninvolved, stadium authorities made their way to the top of the section to act on a complaint that the banner was “offensive.” The authorities ignored reports of the fight altogether, did not even bother talking to the men involved and turned their attention to the Temple students. They first made the students remove the banner, then told them it had to be confiscated. The Temple students refused.

They argued that it was a matter of free speech – the banner lacked any profanity and was a simply-stated opinion of the Paterno issue. It did not matter if a Paterno supporter found it to be offensive. The Temple students backfired with the argument that the honoring of Paterno offended them. The officials had no legal authority to remove the banner from a public University’s facility. One of them even told me they did not want to act upon the complaint, but they received an order from an administrator to do so.

The officials and students continued to deliberate and four more armed officers entered the section. They left empty-handed minutes later, realizing they had no real authority over the students’ demonstration.

Somehow, the Penn State administration believed they had a monopoly on the Paterno issue – another false reality. The University was allowed to celebrate Paterno, but attempted to disallow students from condemning him. It’s clear that the administration is putting aside an important turning point in the case to defend Paterno’s contributions and the name of Penn State football.

What they do not realize is that we now live in a “see something, say something” era. Professional football is spreading domestic abuse awareness and advocating stricter punishments for players and NFL team staff accused of sexual assault or enabling.

The male sports world is going through a change. In the recent past, reports of sexual assault against sports participants have gone ignored, or given lackluster punishments. Now, the NFL is at least taking a stance against those who ignore sexual assault.  

The Sandusky scandal gave momentum to this movement, and Penn State should have taken the scandal as an opportunity to promote zero tolerance for abusers or enablers. Instead, they cling to legacy and financial gain. As the sports world takes a step forward, Penn State takes two steps back.

The Paterno controversy not only reveals deeper issues in Penn State’s administration, but highlights Temple’s handling of a similar situation, as the University is currently facing a huge sexual assault scandal involving a former major contributor, Bill Cosby.

Cosby was on the Board of Trustees and heavily influential in the Temple community until numerous women began coming out and accusing him of rape. As he was initially facing trial, he was forced to resign from the Board. University affiliates are now advocating to take back his honorary degree. Despite his influence and financial contributions, the University feels a moral obligation to separate from him, as he was an accused sexual abuser. He has not even been convicted and no accusations have been confirmed.

Paterno was revealed to have known about Sandusky’s child abuse since 1971, according to multiple reports, and in 2002 it was confirmed that a witness of the abuse came to Paterno with the information. Sandusky was not convicted until 2011. Paterno was involved with a scandal where he and Penn State authorities protected a child rapist within their own facilities and yet the University continues to take pride. Paterno has provided a tremendous amount of money and success to the school and is the man behind the prestige of the football team, which brings in millions each year. So they honor him. They honor a man who allowed children to be raped and led a program of dishonesty.

Respect for Paterno has already been lost by outsiders, who are waiting for Penn State to accept the unfortunate situation and break the bubble of delusion surrounding Happy Valley.


Marijuana and college students: Smoking it, selling it, not supporting it

College students are notorious for adopting social issues and giving them saliency on the national stage, getting involved in politics and in lots of cases, forcing progressive changes – so why aren’t students grabbing ahold of marijuana reform?

Raised in the “just say no” and “above the influence” era, millennials grew up with a negative image of all drugs, including marijuana. Students worry outward support of legalization could jeopardize employment, and support for the drug is not widely accepted. This is changing with decriminalization and legalization across the country, but there’s no guarantee of sudden student support – the drug is still illegal.

The Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) works to get students involved in ending the War on Drugs, supporting decriminalization, taxation and regulation of marijuana. The organization has 5,000 student members in the U.S. and internationally, with two local chapters at University of Pennsylvania and Drexel. Temple did have a chapter until 2014, when its leader graduated and support dwindled. Jake Agliata, SSDP’s outreach coordinator for Pennsylvania, grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and has taken an interest in the area.

“We have a very strong chapter at UPenn and a smaller one at Drexel, but outside of that not much going on in the city,” Agliata said in an email. “There is definitely a need for more student activism in the Philadelphia movement and one of my jobs is to try and create excitement among students and young people.”

SSDP is dedicated to multiple drug issues, ranging from alcohol abuse and marijuana reform to counseling and education for users. They support marijuana reform, but do not focus on it and are not doing enough about it, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). PhillyNORML is Philadelphia’s chapter of the organization. Executive Director Bob Rudy said SSDP’s involvement in marijuana laws is limited, and it is one of the only student-led organizations doing any significant work.

“More adults are coming out than ever before, but students are dragging their heels,” Rudy said. “SSDP is not moving mountains over there at all.”

Another reason for a lack of support, Rudy said, is that young people feel they are excluded from the voting process and therefore have traditionally low voter registration. He also said college students are protected from the consequences of growing and dealing marijuana.

“University police do not want to bust people for weed,” Rudy said. “It costs the school too much money if they lose the student’s enrollment … But as soon as the kids get out of the university and they start dealing on the streets, they get their first time in jail and they understand the difference.”

Universities also have different preliminary punishments for possession and smoking marijuana. Temple’s Student Code of Conduct assesses its own violations for up to three repeat offenses, including punishments from a $250 fine for the first violation, which is steeper than the City’s citation, to expulsion from the university.

However these policies only apply on campus or within 500 feet of it, so any residents outside that area are face charges from the local, state or federal police. Temple, which only has six residence halls for undergraduates, is a majority commuter school. Not many students spend their leisure time on campus.

Compared to other universities with similar undergraduate enrollment, Temple has very few on-campus housing options. College students who live on campuses around the country may be protected by codes of conduct and university police rather than immediately facing legal charges, but many Temple students are not affected by university policies at their residency.

College students and drug use go hand-in-hand, as the drinking and party scene continues to be the social epicenter of higher education institutions. 52 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds had used marijuana in 2014, according to a survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Use among this age group jumped 20 percent from 2013.

President Neil D. Theobald recently sent a message to students with heightened penalties for around-campus alcohol use and parties that supply alcohol, but the policy changes do not mention drug use. The Temple Police gave significantly more referrals and made more arrests for alcohol violations than for drugs in 2014, according to an annual report. On Main Campus that year, 559 referrals were given for alcohol, versus 102 for drug abuse, which does not exclusively mean marijuana. When looking at arrests, alcohol led drugs 23 to 7.

Concern for marijuana possession and use is decreasing nation-wide, as states and localities continue to soften laws against pot smokers. Philadelphia decriminalized possession of 30 grams or less in 2014, meaning offenders get a $25 citation versus previous punishment of jail time. The citation for smoking marijuana in public is $100. Since the change, marijuana arrests in the city have decreased by about 80 percent according to police department reports.

Medical marijuana was legalized in Pennsylvania Sunday, administering limited licenses for physicians, growers and dispensaries. While the law is a positive step for prescribed patients, the bill keeps medical marijuana in the hands of healthcare distributors. Full legalization of marijuana for recreational use is an even harder bill to pass in Pennsylvania’s mixed-party legislature.

PhillyNORML argues that the medical marijuana bill is not sufficient. Small businesses are unable to emerge because licenses are too expensive. The bill prohibits the sale of marijuana plants, which means patients cannot grow their own medicine at a cheaper cost. As a result, the black market still dominates consumer interest and patients are more likely to turn to illegal sale to obtain their medication.

College campuses, the hotspot for illegal sales, continue to thrive without need for legalization. Students can easily access marijuana already without a huge risk of penalty, so they are not motivated to actively support legalization.

“What students don’t realize is that they could actually have a hand in it,” Rudy said. “They don’t realize it, they don’t care, there’s no incentive; what’s the incentive for a student to get involved?”

Self-driven Junior Strengthens Multicultural Community


His fraternity brothers in Delta Chi Psi call him Orion, a giant depicted in Greek Mythology as a hunter and constellation in the sky. The nickname is earned and fitting – as junior Alex Tran follows his numerous endeavors with determination.

Tran, a fourth-year junior, is as busy and involved as a college student can get. He is currently the president of Delta Chi Psi, Temple’s first Asian-interest fraternity, where he has been a brother since his freshman year. He is also the former president of the Multicultural Greek council and is involved with Temple’s Asian advocacy groups.

Tran’s Greek adviser Sarah Sepowski said she admires his willingness to exceed expectations. Sepowski, who had weekly meetings with Tran in Fall 2015, noticed that while his goals to strengthen the Temple Greek community seemed unattainable, he found a way to achieve them. Tran even took the time to participate in an optional accreditation process through student activities to develop his chapter leadership.

Alex Tran pic
Delta Chi Psi President Alex Tran celebrating at the fraternity’s class probate last Spring. The event welcomes a new group of recently initiated members. Photo courtesy of Tran. 


“He is proactive and not reactive with his organization, which is something a lot of our campus leaders lack,” Sepowski said. “He’s not an aggressive person … he doesn’t get super stressed out, or at least he doesn’t show it to me. In terms of characteristics he’s just a really great asset for the Multicultural council in all areas.”

Delta Chi Psi at Temple is the founding chapter of the fraternity, established in 2004, when its founders noticed a lack of Asian-American heritage on campus. Tran joined but did not yet see himself stepping into a leadership position. But this quickly changed; the following semesters he took treasurer and secretary positions, leading to his term as president. Tran hopes to give back to the fraternity and continue improving its saliency.

He is a member of the fraternity’s national board as well, expanding its scope to other universities. Tran’s roommate and fraternity brother alumnus Trong Nguyen called him a “social butterfly,” and said he is always contacting friends at other schools to hold meetings and expand Delta Chi Psi’s national presence. Sepowski said national chapters rarely call upon undergraduates to advocate outside their school’s chapter, showing how much the fraternity believes in Tran’s leadership.

“I saw being a part of something bigger than myself,” Tran said. “My favorite part about it is being a part of something very small and very new. I get a chance for it to help me grow as much as I can.”

Tran has grown professionally and culturally since becoming a brother. He is Vietnamese-American and said he had limited connection to his heritage living in a primarily white community. He spent part of his childhood in Northeast Philadelphia and later moved to Bensalem with his parents and four siblings, most of whom are currently attending Temple or are alumni.

His background is different from some of his fraternity brothers, who are international students from Asia. Tran said having a diverse group has connected him with his culture and encouraged him to get involved with Asian-American advocacy.

“I definitely see myself staying active with my fraternity and other Asian-American issues,” Tran said. “It’s something that I definitely care about and I want to do more about.”

Tran often attends conferences with other Asian-interest organizations to talk about topics concerning the Asian community. Delta Chi Psi’s pillars of character are dedication, determination and dignity, values Tran described as important to Asian culture and to his own character.

The fraternity’s current focus is an anti-bullying campaign, something Tran says speaks to the disadvantages the members have faced as minority students. It also addresses the hazing behavior associated with Greek institutions.

“I want to do [community service] because we want to, not do things because we have to,” Tran said. “I’m trying to make it so me and my brothers do things because we really care about the cause or the organization, and want to do this to benefit ourselves and other people.”

Nguyen helped recruit Tran for Delta Chi Psi in 2013 and has witnessed his transformation from a 17-year-old freshman to a social, professional leader in the Greek and multicultural community.

“I got to see the growth he experienced and he exhibited,” Nguyen said. “He’s very dedicated towards his goals and very determined to work at it to succeed.”

Tran currently balances these interests and his computer science degree. He has worked three different internships starting his freshman year, including two at start-up web projects and applications and another at J.P. Morgan. He works a dormitory desk job for the University and wrestles on Temple’s club team. At first, his grades took a toll.

“My parents thought I should concentrate on school,” Tran said. “They did see my grades decline at first … they were actually pretty mad about it, but after I pulled my grades back up they saw me actively doing all these things they changed their mind.”

Tran is now excelling in academics. He placed second in a Hackathon, where computer and software programmers collaborate to work on projects using hardware. He likes to travel to Hackathons in different cities to work on his computer skills, network and visit universities where he promotes Delta Chi Psi.

Palestinian and Zionist Student Groups Improve Dialogue to Reach Common Goal

Published: Fourteenth Street Magazine online, March 13 2016

Politicized language expresses a deep tension surrounding Israel and Palestine, as the two nations continue to feel threatened by each other. However the fear and hatred expressed conceals the desire to peacefully settle a centuries-old conflict.

A common goal between both nations has been hidden by hostility: peace and freedom for all people. Mainstream media is often consumed by the violence, rather than diplomacy, between the two polarized nations, depicting U.S.-backed Israel as a struggling state defending against Hamas terrorists. But there are many sides to the story – the Israeli government has made violent attacks on Palestinians unassociated with terrorism.

The conflict can be translated to Temple’s campus, where in the past Hillel and the Students for Justice in Palestine, among other Jewish and Palestinian groups in Philadelphia have protested and rejected each other for a once non-negotiable barrier between their two cultures.

Since beginning a closer relationship with the University’s diversity office, Hillel and SJP have made an effort to have respectful discussions. Hillel President Max Buchdahl said many American Jews feel cultural ties to Israel, though others are able to separate it from the Jewish faith. This can change the impact of SJP’s anti-Israel dialogue.

“A lot of American Jews grow up and we get a very positive image of Jewish faith in terms of religious teachings, moral values and things like that,” Buchdahl said. “They attach the state of Israel directly to the Jewish religion. Obviously there’s a connection, but I think they’re two separate entities.”

SJP holds ties with Middle Eastern, African American and minority students on college campuses. They have collaborated with socialist and anti-Islamophobic groups, Queer People of Color, the Black Lives Matter movement and the Asian and Black student unions, working to universalize the Palestinian struggle and connect it to social justice issues that have or are occurring in the U.S. Freshman SJP member Dinsio Walo-Wright praised SJP for its inclusiveness.

“I’m a black person. I’m not Palestinian,” she said. “We pride ourselves on intersectionality. The struggle of the Palestinian people is the same struggle that my people are going through.”

Freshman SJP member Natalie Abulhawa planned SJP’s Free Food and Fun Friday last month, celebrating Palestinian culture with ethnic food, dancing and art.

Freedom Dabke, a Palestinian dance group from New York performs at SJP's Free Food and Fun Friday in February.
Freedom Dabke, a Palestinian dance group from New York performs at SJP’s Free Food and Fun Friday in February. (Click to view the full photo gallery).

“Our stereotype can be the same stereotype that Muslims and Arabs get,” said Abulhawa, whose mother is from Palestine. “[Such as] militant, kind of ignorant things that people don’t understand … We represent the love we have and the fight that we’ve given and the strength that Palestinians have.”

Political stigma surrounding SJP has caused meeting cancellations and kickback from the University, according to President and sophomore Iman Sultan. She said their strong political views can often distract from the culture they want to represent and the accessibility of SJP.

However, SJP’s reputation is often overshadowed by an incident at 2014 Templefest, where Jewish student Daniel Vessel was allegedly attacked with anti-Semitic slurs and punched by a student standing by the SJP table. Vessel, a junior at the time, approached the table first and “verbally harassed them repeatedly,” according to Abulhawa and SJP member Yafa Dias. Vessel was also a member of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a group Abulhawa and Dias said specifically targets SJP groups in the U.S.

“What happened in 2014 was not our fault, it was more the fault of circumstance,” Sultan said. “When it comes to Templefest, every table is public. Anyone can visit it. Our table happened to draw commotion because of our political views and orientation.”

Though Hillel now has a closer relationship with the Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership (IDEAL) office at Temple, senior Hillel member Emily Simons said the 2014 incident was not handled as well as it could have been. She said Hillel had requested the University provide security by their table for Templefest, but it did not.

“I was upset with the University because now everything that they’re doing is reactionary when it should be proactionary,” Simons said. “Now we’re working really hard with the IDEAL office and teaching them about diversity in the Jewish culture and we had [President] Theobald here. But it took four years to get Theobald to come to Shabbat dinner.”

Because of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath on Fridays, Hillel is unable to host Free Food and Fun Fridays, limiting the University’s involvement with their group. Simons said this was something both Hillel and the University are beginning to address.

Temple alumnus Hanna Khoury, music director for the Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture group in Philadelphia, plays traditional Palestinian music on violin accompanied by students and Al-Bustan master percussionist Hafez Kotain on drums.
Temple alumnus Hanna Khoury, music director for the Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture group in Philadelphia, plays traditional Palestinian music on violin accompanied by students and Al-Bustan master percussionist Hafez Kotain on drums.

She also said the 2014 incident was a reflection of the Hillel student board at the time. The group now has a full-functioning board that can actively interact with University officials. Iman said SJP’s student board at the time also failed to make their group accessible.

It is important to students in SJP and Hillel that the University provide a space for them to discuss and debate issues, and reduce demonization of either group. But there is a very fine line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. SJP members claim the latter; they do not support the establishment of the state of Israel. They often boycott products produced in Israel and push legislation that cuts the U.S. and Temple’s relationship with the nation, behaviors they define as anti-Zionist.

But for students raised in Jewish families and communities, anti-Israel speech of any kind can trigger emotion. Jews with strong ties to their culture consider the denial of a Jewish state as a rejection of their culture and therefore language can be interpreted as anti-Semitic.

“For a lot of Jewish students, they can’t see the difference,” Buchdahl said. “Any comment which resembles an anti-Israel sentiment is ‘you hate all Jews.’ … It conjures up a lot of emotion.”

On the other hand, Sultan said there is a distinct difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and that language is sometimes called anti-Semitic as a silencing tactic for anti-Zionist sentiments. This denies SJP the right to share their opinions on the state of Israel.

“A very serious issue of religious and ethnic discrimination against Jews is being exploited by people who have their own political agenda,” she said.

But Simons also believes anti-Zionist language can be easily interpreted as anti-Semitic whether it is intentional or not.

“[It’s] the way that someone feels they’re being attacked because of their religion and their culture,” Simons said. “That’s up to them to decide, not someone else, the same way someone might feel being attacked for their race.”

Sultan and Abdulhawa said they were not anti-Semitic and that SJP advocates for the liberation of all people, including both Palestinians and Jews suffering acts of war along the Gaza strip.

“Judaism is a religion. It’s peaceful, it’s beautiful,” Abdulhawa said. “When I say I’m anti-Israel, I boycott them; I don’t buy products from them. People think that’s anti-Semitic but it’s not. It’s a misunderstanding.”

Misunderstanding is starting to be addressed between IDEAL and each group, but dialogue between Hillel and SJP is still limited. Carmen Phelps, director of student engagement at IDEAL, said she has seen progress between the two groups. Both had representatives at the social justice summit in January and both appeared willing to discuss their interests.

Phelps also said she would understand why in the past Hillel and SJP were not open to these discussions. She said the University did not have personnel dedicated to learning the concerns of both groups, but her position now attempts to bridge the gap and encourage conversation that could potentially change the global perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The challenges all groups face, on this campus and in the world in general, are global,” Phelps said. “We can’t really expect these issues to be reconciled and resolved when we’re looking at global issues … Hopefully what we can do … is encourage a new paradigm for achieving those goals in the world, perhaps starting with an SJP and a Hillel at Temple.”


Students for Justice in Palestine Hosted Free Food and Fun Friday (Feb. 2016)