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Protest springs from canceled museum event

trolley missouri history museum
Rachel Heidenry | 2009
Missouri History Museum

Organizers of a canceled Missouri History Museum event are accusing the institution of practicing “selective history” over its cancelation of a Ferguson-related event.

“It’s a direct silencing of a large part of our community,” said Stephanie Aria, 21.  Aria is a leader of the Washington University student group AltaVoz which organized the event.

Aria and other organizers said the museum canceled “Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action” because the panel discussion included Palestinian topics.  The event was originally planned to unite people in conversation regarding various social issues, from the protests in Ferguson to the protests that erupted in the wake of thekidnappings at the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa.

The museum claims the event organizers are responsible for the cancelation because they changed the panel content from what the museuminitially agreed upon. Although Palestine wasn't mentioned in the original proposal, the students say that became part of the planning very early on.

Museum President Frances Levine said the museum executed the initial agreement because the event focused on Ferguson but organizers then broadened the scope beyond what was reasonable.

“I think our museum was focusing on Ferguson for so long that they didn’t see that this event was slowly shape-shifting to something different.”

Organizers and the museum had been working on the discussion since January, yet organizers didn’t receive word the event was officially canceled until March 17. The announcement was met with criticism by organizers and intended attendees. Some took to Twitter, suggesting that the museum’s decision was influence by board members or donors who didn’t want to discuss the Palestinian conflict.

The museum denied that. “Not at all,” said Levine, who said the event wasn’t vetted enough beforehand.

“This had to do with me asking Melanie [Adams] to apply the due diligence that I have asked her to apply to every event that she is scheduling,” she said. 

Levine says the decision to cancel the event came directly from her when an event flyer on her desk brought the change in scope to her attention.   

Event organizers maintain the reason they were given for the cancelation was solely the inclusion of Palestine. Another AltaVoz organizer, Deren Pulley, 23, was frustrated at the museum’s cancelation. He said they worked to ensure the event was not framed by Washington University but the St. Louis public.

“We wanted as much community participation as possible, as much community discourse and dialogue, and we figured that the History Museum being a space for public forums and public discussion, would be the perfect venue,” said Pulley.

Levine responded that the museum would be happy to entertain a proposal for a discussion related to the Palestine conflict at another time and said it might be better suited around an upcoming event regarding the Holocaust. To this effect the museum released an email Friday, March 20, stating they are planning a panel  discussion related to Palestinian and Israeli history later in the year.  The email also reiterated their position regarding the original event's cancelation.

"Our main issue was never with talking about Palestine. The issue was with adding a third topic to the discussion," the email stated.  

According to AltaVoz organizer Aria the group does intend to reschedule the panel but is unsure where. 

The group planned a protest outside the museum to be held at the time the discussion was initially scheduled to take place.