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Penn President Liz Magill hosted a fireside chat during Family Weekend on Oct. 27. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

President Liz Magill announced a University-wide action plan to combat antisemitism following significant donor backlash and safety concerns after on-campus incidents.

The plan — announced in an email to the Penn community on Wednesday – is anchored by the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism and commits to several steps to improve safety and security, engagement, and education on campus. The plan comes as many high-profile donors and alumni continue to criticize the administration for its response to the Palestine Writes Literature Festival and the escalating violence between Hamas and Israel.

"Across the country and world, we are witnessing pernicious acts of antisemitism, including on college and university campuses," Magill wrote. "I am appalled by incidents on our own campus, and I’ve heard too many heartbreaking stories from those who are fearful for their safety right here at Penn."

As part of the plan, Penn will launch a new task force on antisemitism chaired by Mark Wolff, the Morton Amsterdam Dean of the School of Dental Medicine, which will meet this month.

"With this Action Plan, this Task Force that I am proud to lead, and the combined expertise of our academic community, I believe we will" lead in combatting antisemitism, Woflf wrote in a statement.

Penn also announced a presidential commission to address the "interconnectedness of antisemitism and other forms of hate" faced by Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab communities. 

This commission will be chaired by Vijay Kumar, Nemirovsky Family Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Katharine Strunk, dean of the Graduate School of Education. 

"I know that our Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab communities feel unseen and that their pain and grief have not been acknowledged," Magill wrote. "They have also been targeted with harassment and horrific threats. This is unacceptable and must be addressed with equal vigor."

Penn outlined several additional immediate and longer term action steps, including a review of existing safety and security for Penn-affiliated religious life centers in and around campus. Penn also reiterated its progress on reviewing the process by which groups external to Penn can reserve space and host events on campus — first announced in a letter Magill sent to the Anti-Defamation League in September. 

The action plan adds that Penn will “make sure that all members of the Penn community are aware of the process for reporting acts of antisemitism or other acts of hate.”

Citing a desire to deepen its engagement with the Jewish community, Penn will establish a task force on antisemitism, constituting a student advisory group focused on the Jewish student experience, and partnering with organizations such as the American Jewish Committee.

Penn said it plans to hire an administrator experienced in countering hate, expand its training programs to incorporate antisemitism awareness, and bolster academic research on the topic of antisemitism. Penn will also send representatives to the Brandeis University Leadership Symposium on Antisemitism in November.

"President Magill is providing critical leadership here, at a time when it is absolutely essential to clearly communicate, in word and deed, that antisemitism will not be tolerated at Penn, and the security and safety of our community is a priority," 1979 College graduate and Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Julie Platt wrote in a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. 

In the plan, Magill described Penn as having a "long history of being an especially welcoming place for Jewish people," while condemning recent antisemitic incidents around campus this fall. 

These incidents include a spray-painted swastika discovered in Meyerson Hall in the Stuart Weitzman School of Design and an unknown individual who overturned furniture and vandalized Penn Hillel while shouting antisemitic rhetoric.

Following these antisemitic incidents, Penn administrators pledged to take additional steps to protect Jewish students.

Earlier this month, a vacant property run by Campus Apartments — next door to the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity chapter house at 4040 Walnut St. — was vandalized with antisemitic graffiti on Oct. 20. DPS previously wrote to the DP in a statement that they will investigate the incident as “a potential hate crime.” 

Following the festival and Penn's response to the Hamas attack on Israel, several high-profile donors halted their donations to the University, citing disapproval of Penn administration. 

The public backlash began with a letter by Wharton Board of Advisors Chair Marc Rowan on Oct. 10, which called for donors to "close their checkbooks" until Magill and Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok step down, citing the University's handling of antisemitism on campus.

Following Rowan's letter, other prominent donors followed suit, including 1969 College graduate and "Law and Order" creator Dick Wolf, 1987 College graduate and former ambassador and governor Jon Huntsman Jr. on behalf of his family, 1990 College and Engineering graduate David Magerman, and 1965 Wharton graduate Ronald Lauder.

Magill has published multiple statements to the University community over the past month, condemning Hamas and emphasizing Penn's position on antisemitism. These statements have received mixed reactions from community members.

Many Penn students and faculty have pushed back against initial University statements for not mentioning the ongoing violence against Palestinians in the region or the toll of the conflict on Palestinian students on campus. In addition to multiple rallies in support of Israel, hundreds of community members have rallied in solidarity with Palestinians and criticized the administration for its engagement with Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian students.

While Penn plans to create a presidential commission, it is unclear if the University will announce a comprehensive action plan of the same scale to address Islamophobia on campus. As part of its antisemitism action plan, Penn will address other forms of hate and hire a new administrator with a skill set to prevent and respond to antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate.

Faculty members and students previously told the DP that they have received violent threats as a result of their participation and involvement in these demonstrations.

"As we move forward with this important work, we will ensure that our programmatic efforts consider the interconnectedness between antisemitism and other forms of hate, including Islamophobia, so that we are fostering a welcoming community for all," Magill wrote.

See students' and other community members' reactions to this story here.