NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY
Student government presidents attending Policy Conference 2012 used the opportunity to secure signatures on a national leadership statement expressing opposition to a nuclear-capable Iran.
Student Leaders Across America Oppose
Student Government Association presidents at 122 colleges and universities across the United States have declared their opposition to Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapons capability in an unprecedented national leadership statement. The statement, one of the first of its kind on any issue, reads “[We] support the broad bi-partisan consensus that opposes the development of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability.” It goes on to affirm support for a “strong U.S.-Israel alliance and Israel’s right to defend itself.” Among the campuses represented are many of the nation’s top schools, including the University of California – Berkeley, Columbia University / Barnard College, Washington University in St. Louis, and Georgetown University. All told, the statement includes signatories from institutions representing 44 states ranging from Florida and Ohio to Alaska and Idaho. 17 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are represented, including Morehouse College in Georgia, Grambling State University in Louisiana, and Oakwood University in Alabama.
Why are so many of America’s future leaders speaking out about the danger of a nuclear Iran, and why now? To this point, Micah Fielden, the Student Body President at the University of Kentucky, said: “As student body presidents, we felt it would send a strong message if we could, in a unified voice, come together and show that student leaders across the nation feel that this is an important issue. As individuals, we can sign on, but as student leaders we represent hundreds of thousands, if not millions of students. That demonstrates to our elected officials that the next generation of leaders in America feels strongly about this issue.”
Probed about the relevance to students of something so far away during a time of uncertainty at home, Fielden responded, “This is a global security issue. The United States is most certainly affected by Iran’s ability to threaten our allies and interests in the Middle East. This is an issue of world peace. As a student leader, I am concerned with the precarious situation that would arise from Iran becoming nuclear.”
Tracking down hundreds of student government presidents to secure their signatures on a policy statement is not as easy as one might assume. Justin Kingsolver, Student Body President at Indiana University, knew of one venue where he and the other core organizers would be well positioned to secure a significant number of signatures: the AIPAC Policy Conference, which annually hosts over 200 presidents—designated “Geller SGA Presidents.” According to Kingsolver, “Policy Conference provided us with the perfect opportunity to make this happen. As the Student Body President of one of the larger campuses in the United States, I get invited to a lot of different gatherings—but this is the one that everyone goes to. Policy Conference is the largest gathering of Student Government Association presidents in the United States. It provides a really good forum to do something like this.”
Policy Conference 2012 provided two networking opportunities for the organizers to pitch their idea to the many student leaders assembled. At a pre-conference dinner, Kingsolver made the case to the full delegation of Student Government Association Presidents. A day later, during a lunch shortly after President Obama’s address to the conference, Kingsolver was joined by Fielden in making the case. The result? According to Kingsolver: “Everyone we approached signed it.” Matthew Diaz, Student Body President at the University of South Florida, was at Policy Conference and made a decision to help the organizers when he heard their rationale: “We all agreed that Iran should not be pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. That was a general consensus of all the student government presidents, which is what led them to sign on.”
Why is it important that student leaders speak out on the issue when so many members of Congress and policymakers across the administration have already made it clear that the United States opposes Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability? Lizzy Shay, Undergraduate Student Body President at the University of Minnesota, provided one answer: “It was necessary because, without it, there is no real evidence of students’ investment in the issue. What is unique about this leadership statement is that we are all coming together, from a wide range of distinct worldviews, in agreement on this issue. Our unity, and its display, is what’s important.”
Despite this broad consensus, it was clear in discussion with these leaders that not every student on their campuses is even aware of this issue. So we asked them how they respond to those who say: “Why are you speaking for us on this?” Matthew Diaz, of the University of South Florida, replied: “Part of me being student body president is using my judgment. I was elected because of my track record of leadership. There is confidence that I am educated on this issue, and that I have investigated it thoroughly. I signed on because I believe it an important issue for my generation.”