As a dozen students from Harvard Jews for Palestine staged a sit-in just two floors below her office in University Hall Thursday afternoon, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Hopi E. Hoekstra spoke with The Crimson — and had nothing to say on the occupation.
Hoekstra said she was “aware of the situation, but I really don’t have anything further to add” in a Zoom interview Thursday afternoon. The interview was originally scheduled to be in-person in University Hall, which also houses the offices of several other top Harvard administrators.
The occupation began Thursday morning, just hours before The Crimson’s interview with Hoekstra. Harvard University Police Department officers restricted access to the building shortly thereafter.
More than 100 students and affiliates rallied outside University Hall at around 4:30 p.m. on Thursday in support of the demonstrators, who remained in the building. Just before, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana spoke with the students in the building, but FAS spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment on the content of their conversation.
Hoekstra would not say if she had spoken with any protesters.
“I really want to move on from this topic,” she said.
The protesters called on the University to call for a ceasefire, create a committee to investigate Islamophobia on campus, and state that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. Hoekstra declined to comment on their demands.
As with her last interview with The Crimson, Hoekstra largely avoided directly addressing campus controversies over Israel, Gaza, and antisemitism, instead deferring to University President Claudine Gay’s previous communications to affiliates.
“I think that statements that have been made have been clear about antisemitism,” Hoekstra said.
Hoekstra declined to comment on whether or not she would support the creation of an advisory group focused on Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism in addition to the newly launched task force on antisemitism Gay announced late last month.
In a Nov. 9 email to Harvard affiliates, Gay condemned antisemitism, Islamophobia, harassment, and violence and affirmed Harvard’s commitment to free speech. Gay also censured the pro-Palestine phrase “from the river to the sea,” which she stated has “specific historical implications” that “imply the eradication of Jews from Israel.”
More than 100 faculty members across eight Harvard schools signed an open letter earlier this week criticizing Gay’s condemnation of the phrase.
The faculty signatories, who included nearly 50 members of the FAS, also called on the University to create a task force focused on Islamophobia.
Hoekstra would not comment on the faculty’s criticism.
“President Gay’s statement really speaks for itself, and again, there’s just no place for discrimination of any kind at Harvard,” she said.
When asked how concerned she was by antisemitism on campus, Hoekstra said that “bullying and intimidation really run completely counter to our academic mission,” and pointed to available resources for affiliates, such as the University’s anti-bullying and non-discrimination policies.
Harvard has faced significant pressure from prominent donors and alumni, who have said Harvard’s condemnation of antisemitism has been insufficiently swift or forceful. In Monday’s open letter, faculty members wrote that they were “astonished by the pressure” from alumni, donors, and other affiliates “to silence faculty, students, and staff critical of the actions of the State of Israel.”
Hoekstra declined to address alumni and donor pressure on administrators, saying that “what we really need to focus on here is really thinking about what’s important to Harvard and what we’re doing right now on campus.”
“This is a challenging time on campus, and we’ve been really focusing on supporting the physical safety and emotional wellbeing of our students,” Hoekstra said, praising the role of house deans and tutors in supporting undergraduates.
—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at email@example.com.