MADISON – Katrina Morrison, the chair of student government at University of Wisconsin – Madison, was required to apologize and has done so. Now, she says she truly meant it.
“I 100 percent meant the apology,” she told the Chronicle. “It’s an important step that needed to happen.”
Morrison publicly apologized in September for her role in scheduling a vote of Jewish interest during Passover. She was required by a student court to make the apology at the first meeting this semester of Associated Students of Madison, which is the student council.
“I was wrong,” she said at the Sept. 5 meeting. “I am disappointed in the conduct I displayed, and I am sincerely sorry for the hurt I caused to the Jewish community.”
“Since the events of last semester, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect about the impact my actions had on people at our university, as well as people beyond our campus. I am saddened that I contributed to an environment of exclusion.”
Morrison had helped lead an effort to critique Israel on the student council. Jewish students felt intimidated as some students who are critical of Israel raised their voices. Some accused supporters of Israel of standing for white supremacy. In that environment, the student council held a key vote last semester at a meeting during Passover, despite requests for a delay.
Morrison said she started to rethink her actions even before a student court ordered her to apologize.
“What really made me start to question these things was that Jewish students felt like they couldn’t be a part of ASM or they weren’t included in ASM,” Morrison said in a phone interview.
“That was never my intention. My intention was never to exclude people but then once I realized that people did feel excluded I began to realize even though it wasn’t my intention to exclude people my impact was still exclusion.”
When asked how a vote related to Israel on Passover could be anything but exclusion, she said she hadn’t thought of it through that lens. She was focused on the fact that the measure would require a second vote to pass, she said.
“That was in my haste,” she said.
The 21-year-old senior is not Jewish, describes herself as agnostic and is pursuing majors in international studies and geography. From the north side of Milwaukee, she plans to go to law school.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work through interpersonal connections. I’ve spoken with my friends at ASM who are Jewish about issues,” she said. “I’ve committed to go to a conference in October through the Shoah Foundation.”
“I went to a Shabbat dinner recently. I’ve been doing a lot of things to try and really understand the culture, the religion and the history.”
She spent several hours with Greg Steinberger, executive director of Hillel Madison, among others.
“The meetings happened at her request,” Steinberger said. “I was pleasantly surprised that she walked in ready to have hard conversations.” He added that she was “serious” and “thoughtful” in her reflection.
Her political views may surprise you.
“I believe the state of Israel has a right to exist,” she said. “I believe that a Jewish state has the right to exist and I also believe that a Palestinian state has the right to exist. I also believe that there are human rights abuses being perpetuated in the country.”
She also said she’s still learning about the conflict.
How it all unfolded
The controversy started when Morrison and others supported an effort in Madison student government to create a new Financial Transparency and Ethics Subcommittee. The subcommittee was seen by many as part of a continuing effort to critique Israel. But the student government considered the proposal at an April 12 meeting with some supporters of Israel not present, because it was the third night of Passover.
According to the student court, student government member Ariela Rivkin had emailed Student Council Chair Carmen Gosey to ask that “human rights mechanisms or transparency on investment policy” not be considered during Passover. She reportedly explained that observant Jewish members of student government would not be able to attend the meeting and provide input on an issue of importance to members of the Jewish community.
Yet at that April 12 meeting, students took steps towards the creation of the Financial Transparency and Ethics Subcommittee, to look into the University of Wisconsin-Madison Foundation. Morrison, who was not yet chair of student government but was a member, was a key driver of the effort.
Later, a student court delivered a rebuke. The panel of four student justices ruled in May that “Jewish students were the subject of discrimination by their elected representatives.”
The Wednesday, May 10 summary judgement of the Student Judiciary of Associated Students of Madison held that Morrison would have to apologize and state why Passover is important to the Jewish community. Other students were also advised to apologize.
Morrison delivered her apology Sept. 5, after spending the summer thinking about it.
“My intentions were never to alienate Jewish members of our community, but I fully recognize that that was my impact,” she said at the Sept. 5 meeting, according to a transcript of her statement that she released.
Morrison also helped create a new student government code of conduct, according to Morrison and The Badger Herald. The code, passed at the Sept. 5 meeting, focuses on fostering an inclusive space to encourage collaboration.
The student government also passed a resolution against anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred in a unanimous vote, according to The Badger Herald. The resolution states that ASM condemns harassment, discrimination and intimidation of any kind toward all students of different identities and it apologizes for the actions that took place at the April 12 meeting.
The efforts to create the Financial Transparency and Ethics Subcommittee were voided by the student court.