Duke Student Government President Christina Wang has vetoed DSG’s recognition of Students Supporting Israel.
The decision was based on evidence that SSI "singled out an individual student on their organization's social media account in a way that was unacceptable for any student group and appeared antithetical to the group's stated mission to be welcoming and inclusive to all Duke students, and educational in mission and purpose,” Wang, a senior, wrote in a statement to senators obtained by The Chronicle.
Duke SSI intended to “be a clear and confident pro-Israel voice on college campuses and to support students in grassroots pro-Israel advocacy,” according to their mission statement.
“Our goals and activities include familiarizing students and the University community with current events in the Middle East, sharing Israeli culture on campus and responding to biased anti-Israel propaganda when spread by other members of the academic community,” the mission statement reads.
Senators chartered the group at their meeting last Wednesday after extending the questioning period twice. During the meeting, senators raised questions about how SSI would communicate civilly with opposing organizations and how they would play a role in educating the student population.
Wang noted that “any group exhibiting similar conduct would be handled in the same manner” and that DSG monitors complaints from students in every club they recognize. Any group exbiliting “potentially hostile or harmful” behavior is subject to having their status re-examined or suspended at any time, Wang wrote.
Senators will have the opportunity to debate Wang’s veto on Wednesday. If two-thirds of senators vote to override the veto, Duke SSI’s status as a recognized group can be re-passed.
Duke SSI President Alanna Peykar, a sophomore, did not respond to a request for comment.
DSG has not exercised a veto since 2016, when former DSG President Keizra Mecklai, Trinity ‘16, vetoed $40,000 of funding for the Chanticleer, Duke’s student yearbook.
The social media incident
Sophomore Elyana Riddick posted a link to The Chronicle's article about DSG recognizing SSI on Twitter, captioning it "My school promotes settler colonialism."
SSI posted a screenshot of Riddick's tweet on their Instagram. The post has since been deleted, but a screenshot was obtained by The Chronicle.
"To Yana and others like her, please allow us to educate you on what 'settler colonialism' actually is and why Israel does not fall under this category whatsoever. These types of narratives are what we strive to combat and condemn, which is why Duke's chapter of Students Supporting Israel has been officially established & is here to stay," the caption read.
The caption also promoted an event by the group called SSI 101.
SSI also a screenshot of Riddick's tweet on their Instagram story, captioning it: "Excuse me, what? This is why @ssi_duke is necessary," followed by emojis. A screenshot was obtained by The Chronicle.
Two students commented on the Instagram post, per a screenshot obtained by The Chronicle. One student was Peykar, who commented the muscle emoji. Another student criticized the group for their decision to publicly call out a student.
Riddick told The Chronicle that SSI's posted on Instagram "without [her] knowledge or consent" and before "any attempt was made to contact [her] personally."
"SSI even commented my name under the post, calling me out and condemning me for speaking my mind. This was completely unnecessary, unprofessional and undeniably targeted harassment," Riddick said. "Is this behavior becoming of DSG-recognized groups on campus?"
Riddick believes SSI's actions were "hostile" and "made [her] feel unsafe expressing her opinions on campus," given that her identifying information was included in the screenshots they posted on their Instagram.
She said she is "disappointed" in DSG's recognition the group last week and called on the group to reconsider the decision, as well as for Duke to take her complaint seriously.
"Who really benefits from clubs on campus that aim to combat and condemn opposing ideas on campus through student intimidation and harassment?"
In addition to an introductory post, the group has also posted a video of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at the COP26 Climate Conference and infographics about Israel’s population growth, urbanization and economy.
Duke SSI posted again Monday evening apologizing for their posts and for calling out Riddick by name.
"We are a new organization, and due to our inexperience, we made a naïve mistake here. We apologize unreservedly if we put any student at risk," the apology reads.
The group wrote that they "commit to engaging in respectful, principled disagreement" moving forward.
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Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.