For the last two years, our campus has been focused on engaged pluralism and practices that allow all voices to be heard. This is not easy, and while we have had triumphs, we have also had setbacks along the way. Promoting a sense of belonging for all students, faculty, administrators and staff and faculty on this campus can be challenging. Today, we fell short of these expectations.
A student group brought a speaker to campus, who gave a lecture on “The Indigenous Jews of the Middle East: Forgotten Refugees.” A group of students disrupted the speaker by chanting outside the lecture hall for some time. People who were in the lecture expressed that the chanting was intimidating and hard to listen to. The words have been associated by some people with anti-Semitism.
We have worked with student groups to promote peaceful dissent and assembly, and disrupting an invited speaker is antithetical to being a part of a learning community. We have protocols that allow for peaceful protest. At the core of these protocols is our unwavering belief that we cannot have a free exchange of ideas if we do not allow diverse perspectives to be heard. Students today knowingly violated those protocols, which is unacceptable. We will follow our internal processes to address the situation.
Let us work toward a better approach to discussion and engagement. Vassar aspires to a culture where people feel they belong, where diverse views are welcomed, and where respect for persons is paramount.
Today, we let ourselves down in the pursuit of these values. Despite this, I believe in our ability to learn from this event. Given the strong voices on this campus, and the commitment of faculty, administrators, staff and students to education, I remain confident that multiple ideas, even opposing ideas, will continue to flourish.