Vassar has since 1861 been a bold and pioneering institution of higher education. It is a place that aspires to set the bar for the liberal arts and demonstrate the very best environment in which to work, study and live. We know from decades of research that the culture of an organization matters to the quality of learning, and hence, I take great interest in how each of us influences the social and intellectual fabric of this place we and our alumnae/i have called home.
Last week’s event in which students chanted at an invited speaker was unacceptable. The student leadership had committed to upholding our practices of peaceful protest, including not disrupting the speaker. They broke that promise. Furthermore, protestors chose a chant that can be understood to be calling for the eradication of the State of Israel and is highly intimidating to Israelis and Jews, and directed it to an Israeli speaker discussing his perspective on Indigenous Jews. In the days following the incident, I have spent time speaking with and learning from students, faculty, alumnae/i and experts in the field, and I now believe the use of the chant—in this way, directed at this speaker—crossed the line into anti-Semitism. We have begun our adjudication processes, which by federal law are confidential.
On this campus, we do not tolerate anti-Semitism, hate speech or discrimination of any kind. I am grateful that after the 15-minute disruption, the invited speaker was able to continue and deliver his presentation to an engaged audience of students, faculty and administrators.
To sustain the intellectual community that is Vassar, we support an environment and structures in which free speech flourishes. Even controversial discussions will best confer learning and understanding when they are free from discrimination of all kinds.
Elizabeth H. Bradley, President