More than 70 Harvard academics signed an open letter to University President Claudine Gay on Tuesday, calling on her to condemn harassment of students of color and “other supporters of Palestinian liberation at Harvard.”
A statement released last week originally signed by 34 student groups called Israel “entirely responsible” for Hamas’ attacks, drawing swift condemnation from national lawmakers and Harvard affiliates and making international headlines.
In the following days, students in the organizations that originally signed the statement faced doxxing attacks, including a truck that drove around campus displaying the names and faces of students. Early last week, Gay distanced Harvard from the statement, but she condemned the harassment of students, saying they would not be sanctioned for their beliefs in a video message last Thursday. These messages from Gay came after two earlier announcements from the University and Gay that week.
According to the Tuesday letter, “the administration’s refusal to actively protect the free speech of Palestinian, Arab, Black, and Muslim students has had a chilling and dangerous effect across campus.”
The letter’s signatories include prominent academics, such as History department chair Sidney Chalhoub and Cemal Kafadar, the director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
The faculty members and academic fellows who signed the letter called on Gay and University leadership to “denounce all forms of racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia, including antisemitism and anti-Palestinian racism,” stating that they should “hold responsible all those involved in the attacks against our students and provide adequate measures to protect them.”
“It is our collective responsibility to foster a safe environment for all Harvard students,” the letter stated.
Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton confirmed that Gay received the letter on Tuesday. He referred The Crimson to past administrators’ statements on the matter, but he declined to comment further.
In a Harvard-wide message last week, Executive Vice President Meredith L. Weenick ’90 said Harvard does not “condone or ignore intimidation” or threats of violence, and that student wellbeing and safety was a priority.
The signatories of Tuesday’s letter also “took issue” with Gay’s early statements on the conflict in Israel and Gaza, with the letter stating that the response “reproduced the differential valuing of Israeli and Palestinian lives.”
Gay’s first statement, issued late last Monday, said the school has “no illusion that Harvard alone can readily bridge the widely different views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” but called for empathy and an understanding of “common humanity and shared values.”
After facing criticism that her statement failed to explicitly denounce terrorism or Hamas, Gay released a second statement the following day condemning “the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.”
The Tuesday letter noted Gay’s historic appointment as the first Harvard president of color, stating it “brought much needed hope and inspiration.”
“We trusted your resolute commitment to inclusion, such that historically underrepresented and silenced communities might feel a greater sense of belonging at Harvard,” it stated.
But the faculty criticized Gay’s omission of Palestine in her communications with University affiliates.
“Indeed, the failure to even mention the words “Palestine” or “Palestinians” — except in one passing reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—or to condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians, is to willfully ignore the fact that it is Palestinian and allied students who are being targeted on our campus,” the letter continued.
The letter also stated that Gay did not sufficiently address the humanitarian crisis and violations of international law in Gaza.
“Hamas’s offensive caused unjustifiable and condemnable civilian casualties. The violence did not begin then,” the letter stated. “Systemic Israeli state violence has defined Palestinian life in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip since 1948.”
“Your words and actions in the days to come will have a huge impact on all our students, on our campus, and indeed across the country,” it continued. “Publicly stating that you see our Palestinian students in their suffering and humanity can make a palpable difference.”
—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.