November 8, 2023
Dear Tufts community members,
Over the past few weeks, many members of the Tufts community—students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents—have raised concerns related to the climate on campus. We appreciate all the concerns raised. As leaders of the university, we want to provide a comprehensive update on how we have been working together to support our community, what our policies are to hold accountable those who break our community norms, and a preview of our plans moving forward.
Our first responsibility is the safety and well-being of our entire community. This is something we take very seriously because it is essential to maintaining a civil and productive environment for learning. Any instances of antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated. Any instances of physical violence or intimidation or cases where students are treated differently in class because of their religious or national identity will not be tolerated. If these actions are found to have taken place, then, per the student codes of conduct at the various schools, there will be serious consequences for those involved. These consequences may include, but are not limited to, loss of privileges, probation, suspension, or expulsion for individual students, or probation, suspension, or revocation of recognition for student organizations.
We have heard from several students who indicate that they do not feel safe because of language used in social media, protests, classroom discussions, or elsewhere on campus. We have been working to ensure the safety of the campus community and our security measures have been increased on campus. This has been achieved through increased cruiser and foot patrols by Tufts Public Safety, providing an armed security presence at Tufts Hillel and other locations on campus, and by the mutual sharing of intelligence with our public safety and law enforcement partners at the federal, state, and local levels and also with other college and university police departments. Thankfully, there have been no specific and credible threats against physical safety on our campus. However, we are also working hard to ensure that there is also a positive feeling of safety and community on campus during these anxious times through direct outreach and engagement, one-on-one conversations, small gatherings and programs organized by the University Chaplaincy, and other means.
Freedom of Expression and its Limitations
We have a robust set of rules about free speech, academic freedom, and protests on campus. But there is an important difference between free speech and hate speech. As Tufts’ Declaration on Freedom of Expression clearly states: “Freedom of expression and inquiry are not absolute. The law, for example, provides that freedom of expression does not include the right to slander the reputation of another, to engage in specified forms of harassment, to threaten or obstruct a speaker who advances unwelcome ideas, or to incite another person to violence.” The Declaration further states: “In addition, the university seeks to ensure the orderly function of the educational enterprise and to ensure that all members of the community have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the discovery and dissemination of knowledge.” Let us be clear that we will not tolerate threatening, violent, or destructive speech or conduct.
Protests are a time-honored tradition on university campuses, but we make a key distinction between those who are raising their voices to have their opinions heard and those who are raising voices to ensure that other opinions are not heard. Protests that involve the unauthorized entry into buildings, interference with classes or official events, or blocking means of entry or exit from rooms and buildings are a violation of our policies. Disruption or obstruction of community activity is also prohibited. Regarding discussions in class, we have communicated to the academic leadership that academic freedom also has guidelines as outlined in the American Association of University Professors’ Statement of Principles.
We want to be extremely clear that we will be enforcing these policies on free speech, academic freedom, and protests. Only by doing so will we continue to foster an environment where respectful dialogue is encouraged and embraced. Furthermore, this ensures a safe environment conducive to learning.
We have had instances of students, faculty, and staff going outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Members of university and school administration have reached out to students, staff, and faculty to remind them of what constitutes inappropriate behavior, the importance of using speech responsibly, and the responsible use of academic freedom and free speech rights. Our Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) compiled resources for faculty about “teaching in the days after” and these resources were shared with our academic deans and deans to send to their faculty.
The Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO), along with student life staff and public safety officials, have also reached out proactively to students and student groups to remind them of university policy and how we fully intend on enforcing those policies through our established processes. Student Life at the Schools of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering has also communicated broadly with the student body regarding the appropriate ways to hold rallies and demonstrations and to remind them of Tufts policies regarding this matter.
We have encouraged community members who feel they have been a victim of, or witnessed an act of, hate speech or any other violation of our policies to reach out to the appropriate department and to file a complaint with OEO, which can conduct a formal investigation. Although our campus community has largely been respectful during this past month, OEO has received approximately 60 complaints that they are addressing by either providing resources or conducting an investigation. The incidents raised in those complaints were roughly split between accusations of antisemitism and Islamophobia.
As we know, antisemitism and Islamophobia are increasing on college campuses across the country. We welcome the support from the Biden administration, which is providing direct outreach and guidance to colleges and universities, including Tufts. The Department of Education has also announced that they will be making it easier for students who experience instances of antisemitism or Islamophobia to file a complaint under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Resources and Conversations
This is a moment in time when Tufts’ unique strengths in generating impact by building community can truly lead us forward. In the time since October 7, we have quickly mobilized our faculty experts and our staff leaders who work every day with our students to ensure that we created a safe and receptive environment for every student.
Recognizing that many in our community have been impacted, the university has ensured that community members have relevant and helpful information and access to a range of resources. We have developed a comprehensive website (https://www.tufts.edu/israel-hamas-war) that has information regarding resources and other available areas of support for faculty, staff, and students at each of our schools. These resources include those in the areas of: health, mental health, and wellness; academic and pedagogical support and resources; and spiritual and pastoral resources. We have also had multiple meetings and conversations with members of the Tufts University Chaplaincy to support our entire community, especially those who have been closely affected by the events in the Middle East. Recognizing that each of our schools has unique needs, we have been working closely with on-campus stakeholders in various ways to offer support, provide resources, and listen to concerns.
In the spirit of our mission and of our responsibility as educators, we have facilitated several community conversations across our campuses. Led by Eileen Babbitt, a professor of practice of international conflict management at The Fletcher School, these sessions are designed to develop critical thinking and listening skills in our students and to foster an inclusive environment of respectful dialogue and debate. We are working on developing and organizing additional sessions of various sizes across the university.
Additionally, we’re very proud of the majority of our dedicated faculty members who have maintained the rigorous learning environments for which Tufts is known while ensuring they provide the support and space that our students need during this time. Further, CELT has provided evidence-based guidelines through myriad communication and consultations to ensure that our faculty are equipped to teach during these turbulent times.
Leadership and Action
As we meet the immediate impact of the crisis in the Middle East on our campuses, we also want to be mindful that Tufts must play a long-term leadership role in addressing antisemitism and Islamophobia.
As you may know, in 2021, we conducted a comprehensive study of our campus community to better understand how antisemitism manifests at Tufts. Over 100 students, faculty, staff, and alumni were interviewed and over 6,000 students were surveyed. We are committed to applying the findings of that effort and, in combination with what we have learned in recent days, developing a concrete and actionable plan for addressing antisemitism at Tufts.
Among the recommendations and learnings upon which we will be acting are:
- Further integration of awareness and anti-bias content regarding antisemitism into our orientation and curriculum for students, faculty, and staff.
- The creation of additional venues and programs for the teaching of responsible and productive dialogue and listening.
- Continued participation with other universities in conferences, coalitions, and organizational activities to understand best practices that can be applied at Tufts.
- A review and, if necessary, modification of the policies regarding the recognition and funding of student organizations as well as the code of conduct and consequences for violations, particularly as related to hate speech.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. We will continue to identify additional opportunities and steps to address and prevent antisemitism on our campuses.
Many of these recommendations can also be used to address the rising cases of Islamophobia at Tufts as well and we will identify additional ways to confront it and hate in all its forms at the university. We will establish measurable goals, and we will hold ourselves accountable to continuing this work.
We are personally committed to the values of inclusivity, tolerance, and safety for all members of our community. It is critical that we meet this difficult moment and lead in all these areas. Thank you for your continued interest in helping us through these challenging times.
Caroline Attardo Genco
Provost and Senior Vice President
Michael W. Howard
Executive Vice President
Dean, University College
Helen W. Boucher
Dean, School of Medicine
Chief Academic Officer, Tufts Medicine
Dean, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Dayna L. Cunningham
Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Dean, Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life
Christina D. Economos
Dean, Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy
Dean, School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts
Kelly Sims Gallagher
Dean ad interim, The Fletcher School
James M. Glaser
Dean, School of Arts and Sciences
Dean, School of Dental Medicine
Dean, School of Engineering