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In new moves, UPenn and Columbia unveil plans to combat antisemitism on campus

Actions come after both schools face criticism for not condemning Hamas attacks

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Mary Elizabeth Magill at Herbst Theatre on January 28, 2013 in San Francisco, California.

As the Israel-Hamas war shines a spotlight on accusations of antisemitism against several U.S. colleges, two Ivy League administrations that have faced criticism for their schools’ responses to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks released on Wednesday new actions to combat antisemitism on campus. 

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill described the “University Task Force” of faculty, students and alumni in a press release as “our dedicated commitment” to counter antisemitism “on campus and beyond,” and noted additional efforts the university will unveil to address other forms of hate, including Islamophobia. Magill said the plan centers on three broad areas: safety and security, engagement,\ and education.

Mark Wolff, the dean of Penn’s School of Dental Medicine, is expected to chair the task force. 

The University of Pennsylvania’s plan is tied to the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, which the Biden administration rolled out in May. 

“Among leading universities, Penn is distinguished by our proud history as a welcoming place for Jewish people, a home for leading Jewish scholarship, and by our important, successful partnerships with Israeli and Palestinian Dental academic institutions. So, it is even more incumbent upon Penn that we take a leadership role in combatting antisemitism on our own campus and campuses everywhere. With this Action Plan, this Task Force that I am proud to lead, and the combined expertise of our academic community, I believe we will,” Wolff said in a statement.

Penn’s “Division of Public Safety will also complete reviews of safety and security for all Penn-affiliated religious life centers, in addition to its current, increased security presence at these centers and at events and spaces across campus,” the statement said. “Penn will further boost educational and training programs to ensure antisemitism awareness, prevention, and response are an integral part of equity and inclusion programs for faculty, staff, and students. The University will also develop and advance partnerships with campus-based, and local, regional, and national organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, to counter antisemitism on college campuses.” 

Julie Platt, vice chair of Penn’s board of trustees and chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, said in a statement that with the plan, “Penn is building and strengthening its historic commitment to its Jewish community and providing a roadmap for meaningful action and learning to fight antisemitism.”

“President Magill is providing critical leadership here, at a time when it is absolutely essential to clearly communicate, in word and deed, that antisemitism will not be tolerated at Penn, and the security and safety of our community is a priority,” Platt continued. 

Magill noted in the announcement that threats will not be tolerated against any group. “I know that our Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab communities feel unseen and that their pain and grief have not been acknowledged. They have also been targeted with harassment and horrific threats. This is unacceptable and must be [addressed] with equal vigor,” she said. 

In a less-detailed plan, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik, Barnard College President Laura Ann Rosenbury and Teachers College President Thomas Bailey said that a new “Task Force on Antisemitism” will in the coming months “identify practical ways for our safety and inclusion work to enhance support for all members of the Columbia, Barnard, and Teachers College communities, particularly our Jewish students. Longer term, it will recommend more ambitious changes related to academic and extracurricular offerings and student, faculty, and staff training programs.”

The announcement continued, “Community and values don’t stand on their own. We must constantly reaffirm and reinforce them with action. The Task Force on Antisemitism represents the first in a series of steps we will be announcing in the coming days to reinvigorate community-building, develop robust support networks, and tackle head-on the destructive forces that seek to undermine our values and divide us across a range of issues.”

The actions at the two schools come after several prominent philanthropists have cut ties over the administrations’ failures to condemn Hamas’ massacre. Earlier this week, Columbia administration declined to comment to Jewish Insider after 144 members of its faculty signed an open letter that called Israel an apartheid state while referring to Hamas’ terrorist attacks as a legitimate “military action.”

Columbia’s administration also declined to comment to JI about the new plan.

Last week at a Hillel Shabbat dinner, Harvard President Claudine Gay announced the formation of a similar advisory council “to frame an agenda and strategy for combating antisemitism at Harvard.”

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