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Penn Carey Law Dean Sophia Lee is not planning to issue a statement about the Israeli-Gaza conflict.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School's decision to not release a statement about the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas has prompted frustration from the Jewish Law Student Association and associated alumni.

In an email obtained by The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn Carey Law Dean Sophia Lee wrote to a graduate that she is not planning to send a message to community members about the war as part of a policy about not issuing such statements as dean. Lee wrote that she made this decision to not release statements on behalf of the entire school when she started her deanship in July.

"My hope for my tenure as dean is to connect personally with members of our community in hard times rather than issuing statements," Lee wrote in the email.

As part of this effort, Lee wrote that she has been personally connecting with members of the JLSA community and attended a Friday night Shabbat dinner with them. 

“[Dean Lee’s] actions did a lot for us, but some individuals who were not there don’t feel that support,” one JLSA member who was at the dinner, and who requested anonymity for fear for personal safety, told the DP.

In response to another email from JLSA asking Lee to make a statement on the war, she wrote that her policy was "not a reflection" of their particular request.

"I abhor and totally oppose the horrific acts of terror against Israeli civilians and am deeply saddened by the suffering throughout the region," she wrote.

A Penn Carey Law spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Other administrators, including President Liz Magill, released statements in recent weeks in response to the war. Magill has faced criticism from some members of the Penn community, alumni, and donors for not condemning the Hamas attacks in her first statement, although she has done so on multiple occasions since then.

On Oct. 18, Magill addressed the Penn community for a third time since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, warning that hate speech and violence are not tolerated amid recent rallies in solidarity with Israel and Palestine.

The email sent by JLSA to Lee was signed by 29 students and alumni. It asked Penn Carey Law to “live up to its principles of justice” by condemning the actions of Hamas. 

“We know that murdering children before their families is unequivocally wrong. We know that kidnapping concertgoers celebrating a future of peace is wrong," the email read. "We know that killing civilians is wrong. The students, faculty, and alumni that love and support Penn Carey Law deserve to know that the university agrees."

As of publication time, about 400 alumni have also expressed their frustration with Lee’s policy of institutional neutrality by signing a letter and petition titled, “Alumni Urge Penn Law to Be a Voice of Morality and Speak Up Against Hamas Terrorism.”

The letter and petition is intended to push Penn Carey Law to speak up against Hamas’ attack, stand with Israel’s right to defend itself, and ensure that Jewish students are kept safe. 

The letter and petition alleges that it is hypocritical for students being taught at Penn Carey Law to use their voices to stand up for what is right and denounce what is wrong, while the school’s leadership fails to do the same.

“For Penn to earn the right to say Leges Sine Moribus Vanae, it is time to take a moral stance and for the law school to out and be accounted for," 2000 Penn Carey Law graduate Steven Ebert wrote in one of his six emails to Lee.

Other campus administrators – including Wharton Dean Erika James and Engineering Dean Vijay Kumar – have released statements on the ongoing events. James condemned Hamas in her message to the Wharton community. Kumar sent a message to Engineering students following the Penn Hillel vigil, emphasizing the University’s efforts to provide support services for the community both at Penn and abroad in Israel.

Previously, the DP has reported that many community members have criticized recent statements from the University for not including any mention of the ongoing violence against Palestinians in the region or the toll of the conflict on Palestinian students on campus at campus demonstrations.

Another member of JLSA, who requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation, said that the association will continue to voice the concerns that Jewish students have related to the law school’s campus and support each other as the violence between Hamas and Israel continues.

The group will also continue to work with the administration. The JLSA member said it is clear that the lack of a statement is "not a lack of caring from Dean Lee."

“We don’t want to add fuel to the fire," the first anonymous JLSA member said. "We see it as a duty to maintain a sense of relative calm at the law school and maintain the collegiate atmosphere that Penn law represents.”