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The Blaze
The Blaze
2 Dec 2023

NextImg:Two UT teaching assistants dismissed after sending 'unacceptable' post to students about Israel-Gaza war | Blaze Media

Two teaching assistants in the Department of Social Work at the University of Texas have reportedly been dismissed from their posts after using the UT message board system to send a message to students about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza.

KXAN reported that while the teaching assistants said the message was meant to provide mental health resources to Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian students at the university, Jewish students were apparently excluded from the resources.

In a letter published on November 22, Allan Cole, Dean of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at UT, said that material provided "was unrelated to the course and inappropriate given the setting," adding that it was "unacceptable."

The situation started after one of the teaching assistants, Callie Kennedy, was apparently approached by a student who asked if the class addressed the mental health needs of Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian students. Kennedy then decided to meet with a second teaching assistant, Parham Daghighi, who wrote the message after it was approved by their supervising professor, according to Dallas News.

"As Women & Madness is a class that is heavily oriented around mental health, we wanted to send a message to acknowledge the mental health implications of the current escalation of violence in Gaza," the letter said.

"As your teaching assistants, we feel it is important to be clear that we do not support the University's silence around the suffering many of our students, staff, and faculty are experiencing on campus."

"For example, there was harassment of students at the Palestinian Solidarity Committee teach-in last month. Such discrimination perpetuates harm," the letter continued.

"Several students have come to us to share about the conflict and how it’s impacting them - we appreciate your honoring us with your stories. In an effort to lift up the request for support from students, we’ve curated some resources below. If you are familiar with other resources you would like to share, please feel free to send them our way and we will share them with the group at large."

Kennedy attempted to justify the letter by saying "[w]e were responding to a gap and willful neglect on the part of our university to meet the student’s needs and fulfilling my duty as a teaching assistant to respond to the needs of my students and support them.”

However, the letter did not appear to offer any resources or assistance to Jewish students who have also been impacted by the conflict in the Middle East.

“[This] was also something that I needed to do as a social work student in order to abide by the National Association of Social Workers code of ethics," Kennedy said.

Around a week after the letter was sent to students, Cole sent the two teaching assistants the dismissal letter. Kennedy claimed that the two teaching assistants were not provided the opportunity to give their view on the situation.

“I’m feeling shocked and distressed,” Kennedy said. “We’re seeing growing incidents of harassment, retaliation, doxing, firing of students and faculty across institutions of higher education across the country. I’m really feeling disheartened by the fact that when it comes to Palestine, it seems like free speech doesn’t apply. And that’s an injustice."

However, Kennedy failed to address the growing number of anti-Semitic rhetoric and incidents that have cropped up since Hamas' surprise attack against Israel, which resulted in the slaughter of 1,200 people.

The Anti-Defamation League reported in late October: "Since the Hamas massacre of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) has recorded a significant spike in antisemitic incidents across the United States. Preliminary data from ADL Center on Extremism indicates that reported incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault increased by 388 percent over the same period last year."

A University of Texas spokesperson said that it supported the Dean's decision to dismiss the two teaching assistants, but that they have been offered positions at the university for next semester.

The nature of Kennedy and Daghighi's job offers at the university for next semester have not been disclosed.

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