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Our University will not tolerate religious bigotry or harassment

For weeks, our community, like communities around the world, has been deeply affected by the intense violence and conflict in Israel and Gaza. We mourn the thousands of lives lost and the incalculable human suffering. While we are heartened by the truce and release of hostages, this remains an ongoing tragedy, and it is important to acknowledge that members of our large, diverse community bring a wide range of perspectives, lived experiences and emotions to this crisis. Despite these differences, indeed because of them, it is critical that we allow room for varied and conflicting viewpoints while continuing to treat each other with empathy, compassion and respect. This is a difficult time for all who are affected, and recognition of our shared humanity is essential to ensuring an inclusive and welcoming campus environment conducive to engaged teaching and learning, scholarship and discovery, patient care and community service.

We welcome activities that promote learning and respectful dialogue as well as those that bring members of our community together to share their grief, discuss how to support positive engagement toward solutions, and build community. We also acknowledge that individuals, whether they are members of our community or not, have the right to free speech and to express their opinions on our campus, even in a manner that is offensive.

However, we must also acknowledge the understandable and justifiable anxiety and fear among Jewish and Muslim or Middle Eastern students in this climate. Demonstrations that enter our buildings and create conditions that disrupt teaching and learning only add to this fear. We urge all who participate in protests or demonstrations to consider that the style and manner of such activities can either shut down or promote understanding, build trust or erode it.

It is also important for all to understand that some activities and forms of expression are clear violations of the law and/or faculty and student codes of conduct. For example, we have had reports of incidents, including antisemitic symbols on bulletin boards and antisemitic graffiti on campus buildings and structures. We’ve also heard of Muslim or Middle Eastern students being doxed. Violent and threatening actions against Jewish and Muslim or Middle Eastern individuals and organizations have also occurred on and near other campuses locally and nationally. So let me be clear: we will not tolerate harassment, violence or any specific threats of violence on our campuses.

We will work with law enforcement and through our disciplinary processes to investigate any and every threat of violence, harassment or other discriminatory behavior targeted at individuals for their faith, ethnicity or race. Graffiti that is hateful, offensive, or targets specific groups by faith, ethnicity, or race will not be tolerated and we will support prosecution to the fullest extent of the law of anyone found to be defacing buildings or structures.

We encourage any UW community member who experiences harassment or bias to use our bias reporting tool, as well as the resources available through SafeCampus.

In light of these incidents and tensions within our University and society at large, we are taking a number of steps to ensure that our campus remains a safe and welcoming environment in which everyone is free to live authentically.

  • Our Campus Community Safety division is exercising additional vigilance on campus, including increasing security measures across our campuses. This follows the recent reorganization of campus safety to provide a more holistic and integrated approach to ensuring the security and well-being of our community.
  • We will be creating two task forces to better assess and address concerns about antisemitism and to assess and address concerns about Islamophobia.
  • In collaboration with Provost Tricia Serio and elected faculty leadership, we will be sponsoring or co-sponsoring educational activities and/or discussion groups to encourage understanding of the history and context of the conflict, potential solutions, and related topics.

This conflict and the issues surrounding it are complicated and fraught, and reasonable and thoughtful people can have different views on this complex problem. The search for common ground  and understanding requires civil discourse among people of different perspectives and lived experiences to promote learning. As an institution of higher learning, let us set an example for the world by demonstrating that our diverse community of scholars, students and educators has the ability and the desire to build that common ground that can help us discover positive solutions to the many problems that vex our society.

We are fortunate to live in an open society in which disparate viewpoints can peacefully coexist, even when our differences challenge us. This is the price and obligation of upholding our democratic values. I expect us all to do our part to create an environment in which every member of this community feels welcome, safe and supported, even – and especially – during this challenging time.