By: Ashley Rose
On Sept. 1, IU Bloomington sophomore Hailey Toch, posted a seemingly innocent “get ready with me” video to TikTok.
The IU Kelley School of Business student posted the video with the title “story time of how I found out my next-door neighbor is from Palestine.” The video, which has since been deleted, includes the story of Toch meeting one of her neighbors who is from Palestine.
In the video, Toch explained how most of the residents in her apartment building were AEPi affiliates, referencing the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. Toch, who is also Jewish, stated in her video, “So, if you did not know, my next door neighbor, like my apartment neighbor, is from Palestine.”
While doing her makeup, Toch explained how on a previous night, she was preparing to go out with a friend when the next-door neighbor came over to introduce himself. Toch claimed she had never seen him before, but that her roommate invited him to a pregame at their apartment.
After the neighbor left, Toch said her roommate “casually mentioned” that the neighbor was from Palestine. In the video, Toch appeared distressed by this information, and said she confronted her roommate and accused her of being uneducated about conflict between Israel and Palestine.
“He probably wants to, like, kill me right now,” Toch said in the video. “I was just out there talking proudly about being Jewish – which obviously, I’m very proud to be Jewish, I love being Jewish – but I would have kicked that guy out.”
Toch added that she would not have opened the door for the neighbor or spoken to him if she had known he was Palestinian.
Before ending the video, Toch produced a handheld pepper spray and displayed it to the camera, remarking that she was “ready to go” if the neighbor approached her again.
The TikTok video has been reposted to other accounts and other social media platforms. Following its release on Sept. 1, IU Bloomington leadership nor the Kelley School of Business have issued a response of support for the Palestinian student or addressed the content of the video. While individual student conduct proceedings are confidential, many members of the IU-wide community are dissatisfied with the lack of transparency or progressive stance from the university.
Controversy around this conflict brings questions to whether these comments are free speech or hate speech. Hate speech is technically protected under the First Amendment granting citizens access to free speech, and this protection clause is listed at freespeech.iu.edu as a rule followed by Indiana University. While the website states “speech that is hateful, offensive or inconsistent with the university’s values is nonetheless protected speech under the First Amendment.”
Prior to this exert on the website, it is noted that while the First Amendment protects hate speech, speeches of obscenity, physical violence, specific threats of physical violence, intimidation or destruction of property are not protected. Because of this factor, IU Bloomington students and alumn are concerned with the University’s silence on the matter given many people are interpreting the viral TikTok video as including intimidating and threatening forms of speech.
Following this event, the official IU Bloomington Instagram page, @iubloomington, and the official Instagram page for IU President Pamela Whitten, among other official IU Bloomington affiliate pages, have seen student feedback in the comments calling on the university to make a statement. Some comments are direct, saying things like “Hold Hailey Toch accountable” or “we the people won’t forget.”
Other comments go more in depth, questioning IU’s desire to create a safe space for everyone on campus: “Why are you actively making the campus community more dangerous for marginalized communities by protecting such discrimination and violent threats?”
While some of these comments suggest the necessary response is the explosion of the student, many commenters just want the University to make a comment in support of the Palestinian community.
IU South Bend student David Saleh is a Palestinian student that is also concerned by IU Bloomington’s silence. On the IU South Bend campus, Saleh holds the position of being the SGA chair of diversity and inclusion. The goal of this committee is to create a safe and welcoming environment for all students on campus from any background.
Following the news of Hailey Toch publicly discriminating a member of the Palestinian community, Saleh explained “I think it’s necessary for universities to defend all communities and that by failing to defend the Palestinian community, they then go against everything they’ve said and done to protect these communities.”
Saleh also finds it’s likely this conflict will negatively impact the future attendance and representation of Palestinian students on IU Bloominton’s campus. He believes it is likely many current Palestinian high schoolers will hear about this TikTok video and see that IU Bloomington has made no effort to comment on it, leading them to consider other universities that have created more inclusive environments for the Palestinian community.
His disappointment with IU Bloomington is no surprise. “I believe that this community (IU South Bend) would rally against the hate, had this occured on our campus. It is just unfortunate that our “big brother” campus has not done that.”
Following this event, Saleh has since reached out to the IU South Bend Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Laura Harlow, and the Vice President of Student Engagement, Kory Vitangeli, to see if IU South Bend can release a statement in support of all students on campus, regardless of their culture, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual preferences.