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Harvard Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Hopi E. Hoekstra said she was “extremely disappointed at the missed opportunity” in response to University President Claudine Gay’s testimony on Capitol Hill last week.
In a Friday interview with The Crimson, Hoekstra — who said she had not yet watched the testimony in full — said that she was initially “hopeful” that the hearing “will be an opportunity for President Gay, all the presidents, to have a substantial and robust discussion about how we can work together to combat antisemitism.”
“It’s clear that that was not the outcome,” she said.
Hoekstra, who had previously avoided directly addressing controversies over Israel and Palestine on campus in interviews with The Crimson, spoke last week as Harvard has been thrust center stage in national debates over the limits of speech on college campuses.
In viral testimony Tuesday before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Gay declined to give a “yes” or “no” answer to a question from Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) about whether calls for a genocide of Jews would violate Harvard policies.
Gay — who has previously condemned the pro-Palestine phrase “from the river to the sea” as connoting the “eradication” of Jews to many — also declined to state whether chanting that phrase or the word “intifada,” which references violent Palestinian uprisings against Israel, would qualify as harassment, despite calling both chants “personally abhorrent.”
As backlash mounted, Gay later apologized for her remarks in the testimony in an interview with The Crimson.
Asked about the line between free speech and harassment, Hoekstra referred to FAS and University guidelines, including the Harvard College Student Handbook, the FAS’ 1990 guidelines on free speech, and the Vietnam-era University Statement on Rights and Responsibilities.
The Student Handbook states that “speech not specifically directed against individuals in a harassing way may be protected by traditional safeguards of free speech, even though the comments may cause considerable discomfort or concern to others in the community.”
But Hoekstra also said that the school’s “policies alone are not sufficient” to address antisemitism on campus.
“I absolutely hold those that intimidate, bully, discriminate, accountable, as our policies really require,” she said. “I recognize that our policies alone are not sufficient to fight against antisemitism or other forms of hate, and we need to do more to make a difference.”
Though Hoekstra did not address either specific pro-Palestine phrase, she reiterated that “hate has no place in our community.”
“I’m fully committed to fighting antisemitism and all forms of hate on campus,” she said.
In a follow-up statement, FAS spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo added that “members of the community who have experienced threatening language directed at them have avenues to pursue to hold accountable those who threaten them.”
Hoekstra also referenced recent class walkouts in support of Palestine and said that disruptions to classrooms “really won’t be tolerated.”
“We will hold individuals accountable to that,” Hoekstra said, adding that the FAS was “leaning into our longstanding policies and practices.”
Four undergraduates are currently facing disciplinary action after participating in the pro-Palestine “week of action” last month that included these walkouts.
Hoekstra also discussed her initiative on civil discourse, launched last week at a faculty meeting, which she said was a “moral imperative” and a long-term goal for her tenure.
“The goal is not to meet in the middle in terms of some sort of compromise, but instead to show that we can disagree, and continue to disagree, but have those conversations to learn from each other,” Hoekstra said.
“We will continue to have issues — polarizing issues — that emerge in our world, in our society, and on campus,” Hoekstra said, adding that she hoped to ensure that “we all have the skills to have conversations, to come together as a community.”
—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on X @eschisgall.
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