President Liz 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.
Magill expressed support for peaceful protests and the University's support of free speech while emphasizing the Division of Public Safety's work to ensure the safety of community members. She acknowledged that the "deeply held and disparate views of the Israel-Palestine conflict," expressed at multiple demonstrations on Monday and Wednesday, have caused tension in the Penn community.
"I am also responsible, as the President of this University, for ensuring the safety and security of our entire community while also safeguarding our ability to carry out our academic mission," she wrote.
Magill’s announcement comes amid a week of tension with protests, walkouts, and videos circulating on social media. Many members of the Philadelphia community, including families and children, have been present on Penn’s campus for protests.
On Monday, over one hundred Penn community members attended a seven hour walk out event in solidarity with Palestine where many speakers criticized Magill 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 in her previous statements.
An organizer from Monday’s walkout and member of Penn Against the Occupation told The Daily Pennsylvanian that they "feel unsafe" on campus right now. PAO’s teach-in on Friday has kept their location private out of fear of conflict.
Magill also wrote that "hateful speech has no place at Penn" in her statement on Wednesday.
"In this tragic moment, we must respect the pain of our classmates and colleagues and recognize that our speech and actions have the power to both harm and heal our community," she wrote. "We must choose healing, resisting those who would divide us and instead respect and care for one another."
During Monday’s walk out event, an individual who was seen tearing down posters of missing Israeli citizens and pushing a bystander was taken into custody. DPS later confirmed that the individual — who is not affiliated with Penn — was charged with Simple Assault and Disorderly Conduct for pushing a bystander.
Additionally, videos of other individuals tearing down posters of Israelis taken hostage — which were posted down Locust Walk — have circulated across social media by members of the Penn community. DPS directed the DP to the University Poster Policy.
At noon on Wednesday, over 250 community members gathered again in front of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library for a vigil in support of Palestine. Israel supporters were also present and stood silently as the rally was being held. The demonstration lasted until 1:30 p.m., when the pro-Palestine group marched down Locust to Drexel University.
Previously, on Oct. 15, Magill issued a statement condemning Hamas and emphasizing the University's position on antisemitism amid a growing backlash from prominent donors and alumni.
"I stand, and Penn stands, emphatically against antisemitism," Magill wrote on Sunday. "We have a moral responsibility — as an academic institution and a campus community — to combat antisemitism and to educate our community to recognize and reject hate."
On Oct. 10, Magill announced that Penn will defer all University-affiliated travel to Israel and Palestine for the foreseeable future after war broke out between Hamas and Israel.
Neither statement explicitly mentioned Israel's ongoing siege and airstrikes in Gaza in response to the Hamas attack, which have contributed to a mounting death toll of Palestinian civilians.
However, at Wednesday’s University Council meeting — attended by students, faculty, and administrators — Magill went on to directly address the pain felt by Palestinian students amid the conflict.
“I know that many in our Palestinian community feel especially unseen, and that their pain and grief has not been acknowledged,” Magill said at the meeting. “I acknowledge, and we must acknowledge and support all members of the community, including Palestinian students and faculty and staff, and we will do better."
She asked community members to respect each other’s pain and “recognize that our speech and actions have the power to harm and to heal.”
Magill's recent messages to the Penn community have been met with mixed reactions from students and faculty. While some people previously told the DP that they appreciate the University's commitment to combatting antisemitism, others were disappointed and cast doubt on Penn's intentions in light of recent donor backlash.
The DP is tracking the latest on the campus controversy surrounding both the Palestine Writes Literature Festival and Penn’s response to the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas, as well as the growing list of donors halting their contributions to the University.
In a speech at the University Council meeting, Wharton sophomore and Muslim Students’ Association representative Mouctar Diarra pointed out how Magill’s recent letter consoled the Jewish community but made no mention of violence against Palestinian civilians.
“It’s an intimidation by the donors to suppress free speech, activism, and concerns raised by the Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian community,” Diarra said of the backlash.
At the University Council meeting, which was held shortly after Magill released her message, Magill led a moment of silence to honor the innocent lives lost due to the war.
The president’s report originally planned to provide an update on the University's strategic planning process, but was changed to focus on the “more urgent priority” of community outreach and support for the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, she said.
Diarra added that the current environment has caused Muslim and Palestinian students to fear associating with identity and advocacy organizations at Penn and discussing the humanitarian crisis due to the concern that they will receive severe academic and career repercussions.
“It is a failure of this institution when students, who are grieving the loss of family and are concerned with the loss of life, find their voices silenced, especially when this institution chooses to ignore them when addressing this conflict to the majority,” Diarra said.
He ended his speech by calling for the University to make a statement “condemning any doxxing or academic and career repercussions for student speech and expression about the Israel-Palestine conflict” and emphasizing support for students who engage in productive discourse.
Two student representatives on the University Council echoed Diarra’s calls for the University to make this statement.
“There is a narrative on campus that we can’t talk about Palestinian civilians and the things that have been confirmed that the Israeli government has done,” Diarra told the DP after the meeting.
After the meeting ended, Diarra also spoke with Magill. He said that Magill told him that she was deeply hurt about what his community is facing.