Middle East conflict continues to stir backlash, compromise safety across college campuses

“I’ve had multiple people tell me, like, to go f*** myself or go f***ing die,” one Arab-American graduate student at Harvard University told Al Jazeera.

Commuters, shop customers and dorm students all stopped what they were doing and peered out the window or crawled on the street to see one particular truck strolling around Harvard campus. One by one, the digital billboards plastered on the truck’s body displayed the names and headshots of students affiliated with the 30+ student groups that condoned the Harvard public letter blaming Israel for the Hamas attack on Oct. 7.

The original letter did not contain any particular students’ names. They’d been doxxed and branded as “Harvard’s Leading antisemites.”

“I threw up in Harvard Yard,” said one of the students whose personal information was revealed, according to The New York Times.

Not only have the students been contacted, but their families have, too. Moreover, they now risk being blacklisted by some of Wall Street’s top executives.

From students all the way up to the president, college and university community members who’ve entered the fray on the Hamas-Israel conflict are facing intense backlash, further embroiling college campuses in an incendiary humanitarian crisis overseas.

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The war between Russia and Ukraine sparked its own barrage of protests on college campuses. However, one reason why this conflict between Palestinian and Israeli students has ignited so much more controversy is its proclivity to induce hate crimes and compromise campus safety.

There has been an uptick in antisemitism on college campuses that had already been rising on college campuses over the last few years, said Adam Lehman president and chief executive of the Jewish organization Hillel International, according to The Times.

“The campus climate for Jewish students has been degrading over several years, and that has been aggravated by broader increases in antisemitism and virulent demonization of Israel on campuses,” he said.

Palestinian students and those sympathetic to their cause have also been in peril.

“I’ve had multiple people tell me, like, to go f*** myself or go f***ing die,” one Arab-American graduate student at Harvard University told Al Jazeera.

University professors, as well, have delivered more heavy-handed opinions on the travesties in the Middle East, sparking internal backlash. Russell Rickford, an associate professor of history at Cornell University, stated he was “exhilarated by this challenge to the monopoly of violence” after learning about the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, according to Cornell’s student newspaper. Martha E. Pollack, Cornell’s president, and Kraig H. Kayser, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, promptly responded.

“This is a reprehensible comment that demonstrates no regard whatsoever for humanity,” they wrote in a university statement.

Lastly, campus leadership has received external backlash by donors who believe their respective institutions are fumbling their response to campus dialogue related to the matter. Venture capitalist David Magerman and hedge fund billionaire Cliff Asness, both UPenn alumni, are halting further donations to the university after a Palestinian writers’ conference on campus invited speakers accused of antisemitism, CNN reports. Similarly, The Wexner Foundation, a philanthropic organization, is cutting ties with Harvard over what it considers to be a tepid response to the conflict.

Threading the needle on how to respond about the subject caused Georgia Institute of Technology provost Steve McLaughlin to reflect on LinkedIn on the paralysis that can come with responding to such a heated matter.

“If I play it safe, am I spineless?  Am I being inauthentic? Will I alienate people and friends?  If I don’t say anything, what does it say about me?  If we don’t get the university involved, what does that say about our leadership?” McLaughlin wrote.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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