Dear Members of the Barnard Community,
This weekend will mark three weeks since the terrorist organization Hamas massacred more than 1,400 innocent Israeli civilians. The ensuing war has led to more tragic deaths of Israelis and Palestinians, and there is no end in sight. The Barnard community is global and diverse, and our hearts are heavy as we watch the conflict unfold. Some of us grieve the loss of loved ones, and many of us fear for the safety of family and friends in Israel, Gaza, and surrounding areas.
The war is also taking a toll on our campus. I am appalled and saddened to see antisemitism and anti-Zionism spreading throughout Barnard and Columbia. The massacre resulted in the largest single-day slaughter of Jewish people since the Holocaust, but I have encountered posters in our halls and tunnels that justify the deliberate murder of innocent civilians, employ racial slurs, espouse misinformation, and call for the elimination of entire groups of people. I see students walking to class with bowed heads in fear of what and who they will encounter. I have learned about what is happening on social media and especially on Sidechat, where members of the Barnard and Columbia communities anonymously attack one another using profanity and death threats.
I am also appalled and saddened by the anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim rhetoric on our campus. I have heard members of our community group all Palestinians with Hamas and use dehumanizing language toward Arabs and the people of Gaza. I have learned that students are being doxxed simply because they belong to our Muslim Students Association or other student groups.
The safety and well-being of our students is my top priority, and we must do better. Hate speech and discrimination are unacceptable anywhere on our campus, and we will continue to remove hateful posters, encourage our community to report hate and discrimination, and investigate and respond to all such reports. But we must do more. We must develop a proactive approach designed to prevent such hate and discrimination in the first place. Only then will we be able to strengthen our community of care and respect and be a place where all students feel safe and experience a strong sense of belonging.
This is a time for action. Here are some of the concrete steps that I have taken and will soon take to strengthen our community:
- Safety: I have increased the number of safety officers on our campus and strengthened our safety protocols and training as protests take place on and near the Columbia campus and outside groups publicly dox some of our students on nearby streets. These protocols include daily dialogues with the NYPD and regular communication with safety personnel at Columbia. We have closed our gates and required IDs when needed, and we will continue to do so.
- Resources for Students: We are providing more forms of support to students, including drop-in advising and wellness hours as part of our new weekly Tea on Tuesday. You may learn about all resources for students here.
- Policies: I have led our senior team in reviewing and improving various policies at Barnard, including those related to on-campus events and postings and student group funding. We will continue to revise our policies so that we may more quickly take action in response to hate speech and discrimination.
- Structural Changes: I have placed our Office of Nondiscrimination and Title IX under the leadership of Jennifer Rosales, our Vice President for Inclusion and Engaged Learning and Chief Diversity Officer, and charged the office with developing proactive trainings and programming designed to identify and eliminate all forms of hate. This move also increases our ability to more thoroughly and swiftly investigate reports of hate speech and discrimination on our campus. Reports may be made here.
- Streamlined Communications: To ensure students promptly receive the support they need, I have created a new email address for all questions and issues related to this crisis, including those related to safety, mental health, and academic success. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and emails sent to that address will receive a response within 48 hours. For emergencies on campus, students should continue to contact Barnard’s CARES Community Safety at 212-854-6666. For off-campus emergencies, students should call 911.
- Community Sessions and Task Force: The Office of the Provost and our Center for Engaged Pedagogy have provided guidance to faculty about preventing and reporting hate speech in the classroom, and faculty have otherwise been meeting to discuss ways to thoughtfully address the conflict in class. I will soon convene a task force charged with holding additional community sessions with students, staff, and faculty to further identify and analyze ways to improve our culture, policies, and practices and to be more proactive in times of crisis. I will ask the task force to provide me with their recommendations by the end of the calendar year, even as we continue to make real-time changes necessary for the well-being and safety of our community.
- Dialogue: To model one way of moving from posters and the anonymity of social media to true dialogue, I will personally host small breakfasts for groups of students who seek to have safe and respectful discussions about the dynamics on our campus. All opinions and viewpoints will be welcome, but we will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any other form of hate in these discussions or anywhere else on our campus. Some members of Barnard’s senior staff will also host similar discussions with students. Students may sign up to attend here.
We will share our progress on these and other action plans here, and I encourage regular visits to that webpage for up-to-date information.
For now, I know that change is possible. Over the past few weeks, some students have exemplified the very best of Barnard by supporting one another across differences of religion, nationality, and political opinion. They are peacefully, constructively, and respectfully discussing nuanced and deeply emotional topics from a place of compassion and open-mindedness. They embrace and care for one another across their multiple identities and different points of view. They are living Barnard’s mission.
This is the Barnard to which I hope we will all aspire.
With belief in our community,
Laura Ann Rosenbury