University of Pennsylvania Unveils Plan to Combat Antisemitism on Campus

Penn's plan is to boost safety and security on campus, engagement with the Jewish community, and education of faculty, students, and staff about antisemitism.
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Published on November 7, 2023
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  • Some students, alumni, and donors expressed "deep concerns" over antisemitism at Penn prior to the onset of the Israel-Hamas War.
  • Penn has increased security on campus and at campus religious centers.
  • The university is creating a task force of students, alumni, faculty, and staff to address antisemitism.
  • Penn is working to ensure that antisemitism awareness, prevention, and response are integral to faculty, staff, and student training and education.

University of Pennsylvania (Penn) President Liz Magill has unveiled the university's plan to combat antisemitism on campus amid rising reports of antisemitic incidents on college campuses across the country after the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Magill announced her action plan to combat antisemitism last week, focusing on three cornerstones: safety and security, engagement, and education.

Penn has also increased security at multiple religious campus centers and highlighted education on connected forms of hate, including Islamophobia.

"Antisemitism is pernicious and persistent. Penn is called to counter this evil urgently on our campus and in society," Magill said in her message. "Because hatred of one vulnerable group is so often intertwined with threats toward others, we will also vigilantly combat other forms of hate aimed at members of our community due to their background or beliefs."

'Deep Concerns' Over Antisemitism at Penn Predate Israel-Hamas War

Magill's plan was announced amid allegations of antisemitism on the Penn Campus by some students, alumni, and donors.

War erupted between Israel and the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip following an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians, sparking protests in the U.S., including on college campuses, and raising fears of increased antisemitism and Islamophobia.

However, at Penn, accusations of antisemitism arose in September when the university hosted the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, an event featuring speakers with a history of making antisemitic remarks. Ahead of the festival, more than 2,000 Penn alumni, including several significant donors, signed a letter expressing "deep concerns," according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper.

In the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack, several prominent donors ramped up their calls for change at the Ivy League institution.

Marc Rowan, a Wall Street CEO worth roughly $6 billion who is one of Penn's largest donors, called for the resignation of Magill and Scott Bok, the university's trustees board chair. Joining Rowan was Vahan Gureghian, a charter school magnate and former Penn trustee, and Jonathon Jacobson, a private investor who criticized the university for its lack of "moral courage."

Here Are The Details On Penn's Plan To Combat Antisemitism

Penn's approach to combating antisemitism on campus involves three cornerstones.

First, Penn has increased security across campus, with Penn Police and Allied Universal security at every event. The university has also strengthened security since September at religious-related places like the campus Hillel, Katz Center, Lubavitch House, spaces for Muslim worship, and the Christian Association.

Penn is also reviewing how external groups can reserve spaces and host events on campus.

The university is working to make sure all Penn community members are aware of how to report antisemitic and hate acts and that Penn will respond appropriately and in a timely manner.

Penn is also seeking to increase engagement and charging a university task force to address antisemitism. Made up of faculty, staff, students, and alumni leaders, the task force will begin meeting in early November.

The president and provost will also convene, at a minimum, quarterly meetings with a student advisory group to hear directly from Jewish students about their experiences on Penn’s campus.

Penn is also partnering with the American Jewish Committee to identify ways to strengthen university relationships with campus centers for religious life.

The third leg of the plan involves ensuring that antisemitism awareness, prevention, and response are an integral part of equity and inclusion programs for faculty, staff, and students. The university will also highlight the "interconnectedness of other forms of hate, including Islamophobia."

The university will send Penn leaders — including the vice provost for university life, the vice provost and dean of admissions, the vice provost for education, and the vice provost for faculty — to the Brandeis Leadership Symposium on Antisemitism in Higher Education this November.

"At this moment of seemingly intractable division, Penn has an obligation to do what it has done for nearly three hundred years: create knowledge, share it for good, and educate the next generation," Magill said.

"This work demands great resilience and resolve. It calls for patience and respect — respect for ideas that differ from our own, respect for each other. Our commitment to address the scourge of antisemitism around us is where this work will begin."

Biden Admin, Congress Also Take Action on Antisemitism

The Biden administration and congressional leaders are also taking action on antisemitism on U.S. college campuses.

In late October, 16 Republican U.S. senators sent a letter to the Department of Education (ED) asking how the department plans to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to stop the rise of antisemitic acts on college campuses.

The senators asked for answers by Nov. 9 on how the department will advance the Antisemitism Awareness Campaign, what data ED has about antisemitic complaints through the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and if OCR has begun compliance reviews of complaints and investigations of antisemitic harassment.

ED's Antisemitism Awareness Campaign was launched earlier this year through a "Dear Colleague" letter reminding schools of their legal obligation to protect students and provide a discrimination-free environment as required by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"We are significantly concerned that your department is not ensuring American universities are fostering a safe learning environment for all students after the terrorist organization Hamas' violent attack on civilians, including Americans and Israeli citizens," wrote the senators.

The Biden administration on Oct. 30 announced moves to combat an "alarming" rise in antisemitic incidents on college campuses since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war.

The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security will work with college campus law enforcement to track and examine online hate rhetoric, according to NBC News, which first reported the plan. This includes sending federal security and cybersecurity advisors to work with schools.

The Department of Education will also make it easier for students to file a complaint of antisemitism or Islamophobia under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the White House. Title VI previously did not clearly state that it prohibits forms of antisemitism or Islamophobia.

"In the upcoming days and weeks, the administration will continue to work to combat antisemitism and all hate-fueled violence on schools and also on college campuses," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in an Oct. 30 press briefing.