GUEST ROOM | In Defense of “Martha’s” Humanity

This past Wednesday, students gathered in Goldwin Smith Hall to protest the horrors continuously unfolding in Gaza. I am not here to make a statement on the Israel–Palestine conflict. What I would like to discuss instead is the banner that stretched from the third floor to the ground level of the Goldwin Smith atrium, reading “MARTHA, BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS.”

Grace Elmore

As students at one of the most esteemed universities in the world, protest is not only our right; in many ways, it’s our obligation. Holding accountable those responsible for the ever-climbing death tolls in Gaza is crucial. That being said, it is equally — and if not more — crucial to ensure that those who are actually responsible for those atrocities are the ones being targeted, and President Pollack is simply not one of those people. As Cornell’s President, her responsibilities include fundraising, monitoring University budgets, and providing general supervision over affairs at Cornell. Pollack is the school’s executive, not its legislator. Her job is to execute the decisions made by the University’s 64-voting-member Board of Trustees, not to make them.

Much of the relentless criticism finding its way to President Pollack targets her lack of public, vocal condemnation of what is happening in Gaza. In December, student demonstrators occupying Day Hall chanted “Martha, Martha, you can’t hide, you’re silent on genocide.” But President Pollack has no role in foreign affairs; Her responsibilities are far more narrow. A shallow review of Conell’s Board of Trustees reveals the multitude of voices that our President is expected to reconcile. Her abstinence from public statements may not be satisfying to some members of the student body, but it’s much easier to criticize that silence from the safety of our student perspective. It’s one thing to assert that, if put in President Pollack’s shoes, we would speak our opinions freely and without hesitation, but minds quickly change when expressing those opinions places your life on the line. By speaking in defense or condemnation of either side of this conflict, President Pollack would not only be putting the safety of her life and the lives of her loved ones in jeopardy, but also the safety of our University. So, we must pause and consider before criticizing her public neutrality.