Light & Verity

Addressing tensions over Hamas-Israel war

Balancing student safety and free expression.

The October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and the subsequent war caused fear and tension across the world, and Yale has been no exception. Administrators at Yale have worked to put the campus community’s safety and well-being first while also protecting free expression.

The university quickly ascertained the whereabouts and safety of all community members, sought out those with ties to the region, and provided resources to guide them and any others needing support. President Peter Salovey ’86PhD issued a statement condemning Hamas’s terrorist act and taking a stand for peace. Subsequently, he met with students and followed up by posting his remarks on compassion and civility in which he stated, “Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and hatred toward Palestinians and Israelis are emphatically against our values and principles at Yale. Let me also be clear in stating that our forceful rejection of discrimination and prejudice must be matched by our will to act with compassion and civility.”

In a December 7 letter to the Yale community entitled “Against Hatred,” Salovey provided an update on campus safety, noting that the Yale Police Department has strategically increased security measures and patrols across the university and there were no known credible threats against Yale or any member of our campus community at the time. Salovey outlined efforts to combat both antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus. They include new standing committees on Jewish student life and on Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) and Muslim communities, as well as new educational programming about antisemitism and Islamophobia (as part of the Belonging at Yale initiative).

He also pointed to other efforts to support those communities. The pilot program that began in 2022 between Yale Security and the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life will become an ongoing initiative to fund fully the cost of day-to-day security service for the Slifka Center. The university will provide additional funding to expand its partnership with the Slifka Center to further support the infrastructure for kosher meals, as is done for Halal, vegan, and other dietary options. The university will also hire a second Muslim chaplain and provide staffing and a space on campus for MENA students.

On the question of free expression, Salovey affirmed that Yale is “unwavering in our devotion to free expression, open dialogue, and civil debate.” At the same time, he wrote that “our right to free expression does not obviate our responsibility as colleagues and peers to one another” and that “Yale will not tolerate discrimination and harassment, including threats of violence, intimidation, or coercion.”

The day Salovey issued his letter, the presidents of Penn, Harvard, and MIT appeared before a congressional committee and were asked a hypothetical question: if students called for genocide of Jews, would that violate their school’s code of conduct? The presidents drew widespread attention and some criticism for their measured answers. During a recent call with hundreds of alumni, Salovey answered the same question unequivocally.

“What was asked of other university leaders at recent congressional hearings has raised questions about our policies and practices,” he said. “Let me be clear in stating our forceful rejection of discrimination and prejudice at Yale. In my opinion, if an individual stood on our campus and urged the committing of mass murder of Jews, it would have no intellectual or academic value, and is frankly hateful and worthless. The very idea of it is something I find outrageous, vile, and abhorrent. Such an act, in my view, would be harassing, intimidating, and discriminatory, so I would certainly expect that person to be held accountable under our policies prohibiting such conduct.”

Amid these concerns, the university has also promoted conversation. In November, as part of a series of “Dean’s Dialogues,” Yale College dean Pericles Lewis brought together Feisal Mohamed, an Egyptian-American English professor; and Peter Cole, an Israeli-American senior lecturer in comparative literature, to talk about an article they coauthored about the conflict for the Yale Review. Another dialogue in December featured Emma Sky, director of Yale’s International Leadership Center, and Ross Douthat, the New York Times columnist, also talking about the war and its context. 

The comment period has expired.