At 6:30 a.m. Israel Standard Time on Oct. 7, 2023, the air raid sirens sounded in southern and central Israel as Hamas began launching missiles. By 11:35 a.m. Israel’s Prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared Israel at war.
As the war begins its fifth week, the death and devastation continue to make headlines and shock the public. Recognizing the international impact that this conflict is having on students across the continent, many universities are responding to the crisis in a variety of ways.
Anderson University’s mission statement is to “educate for a life of faith and service in the church and society.” Fostering community debates where civil discourse, over a range of topics, is the subject is a key component of departments at AU. Connor Sutton, Ph.D., assistant professor of international relations and national security, spoke of how AU responded to its mission statement through a panel.
“The department of history and political science opted to host the panels largely as a reflection of student interest, as well as a sense of responsibility to address issues that are often subject to misinformation and disinformation,” Sutton said. “These are extremely complex matters and we have faculty with the expertise to address them.”
The department of history and political science hosted a discussion panel on the Israel-Hamas war Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023 from 4 to 5 p.m. This panel was hosted by four AU faculty members, each with a different area of expertise to provide a range of backgrounds and perspectives.
Dr. Sutton spoke on the relationship between American security and Israel. He was joined by David Murphy, Ph.D., professor of history who spoke on Zionism and the establishment of Israel. Jason Varner, Ph.D., associate professor of the history of Christianity, presented on the function of personality and self in war. Lastly, Gilbert Lozano, Ph.D., professor of biblical studies and Hebrew, talked of his personal experience of being in Israel when the war started. These short presentations were followed by a Q&A session for the attendees.
This panel is not the first of its kind. Most recently, there was a panel on the Russia-Ukraine war during March of the 2021-22 academic year. Sutton provided insight as to why the creation of these panels is valuable to the AU student body as “they help facilitate difficult discussions even in spaces where there is a good deal of disagreement. That’s what the liberal arts setting is all about.”
“We can engage one another without it turning into the kinds of intractable disagreements we’ve witnessed at other institutions and in other settings,” Sutton continued. “We have a unique opportunity to discuss difficult and sometimes painful topics in a Christian setting at AU.”
The panels are held for the students, and it is a matter of whether students are making the most of the opportunity to engage in the civil discussion they provide. Korey Rees, a junior political science, philosophy and economics (PPE) major, recalled attending the Ukraine-Russia panel during his freshman year.
“I chose to go to the Ukraine-Russia crisis panel because as a student concerned with the larger community of believers as well as the greater international community,” Rees said. “I find it worthwhile to know what is happening all over the globe and to gain an understanding of the perspective of Christians on the issue and how to be the hands and feet of Jesus in difficult situations.”
Rees also attended the Israel-Hamas panel for similar reasons, despite the situations for the panels being different. “Given the many differences between the war in Ukraine and the intrastate fighting taking place in Israel, the panels were very different,” Rees said. “As such, the Israel-Hamas panel was much less cut and dry, and stressed the humanitarian crisis and the genuine grievances of both sides.”
Other students chose to attend the panels to get involved with campus or follow their academic interests. “I was curious about public opinion on campus about the war,” said sophomore Elili Sutton, a public history and political science major with a minor in public relations. She expressed her surprise that more people did not attend the panel last Wednesday.
Opportunities, such as these discussion panels, to get students involved with current events beyond the campus of Anderson University is key in, as Dr. Sutton worded, “preparing students for a life of active citizenship marked by grace, hope, compassion and respect.”