Penn's announcement of a University-wide action plan to combat antisemitism garnered support and some skepticism from members of the Penn community and its donors.
The plan commits to improving safety and security, increasing engagement with the Jewish community, and furthering education about antisemitism. While many students who spoke with The Daily Pennsylvanian felt that the action plan is a necessary step for the University to take, some felt that the plan does not provide enough support to either Jewish or Palestinian communities on campus.
Addressing concerns about antisemitism on campus
Several students commended the plan for supporting Jewish students following recent antisemitic incidents.
“I'm very concerned by the rise in antisemitism on college campuses and around the world right now,” College senior Jack Starobin told the DP.
Some donors also expressed support for the plan and Magill's involvement.
"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 University Board of Trustees Julie Platt wrote in a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian.
College senior Ariella Linhart, who is heavily involved with Jewish life on campus through the Orthodox Community at Penn and Penn Hillel, said it was “wonderful” that Magill released the statement, but is skeptical if it actually will lead to action.
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 individual who overturned furniture and vandalized Penn Hillel while shouting antisemitic rhetoric.
On Oct. 20, the Division of Public Safety said it was investigating antisemitic graffiti on a vacant property next door to the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity chapter house as “a potential hate crime.”
Linhart added that the recent instances of antisemitism on campus, including near where she lives, have “made it difficult to feel safe at home" and on campus.
She also expressed concern with the rhetoric used by students and faculty members at the pro-Palestinian demonstrations that took place on campus over the last few weeks, adding that some remarks made her feel unsafe.
College first year Ben Small agreed, adding that he hopes to see more concrete action from Magill in terms of condemning comments and actions from Penn community members that he views as antisemitic.
Acknowledging hate against both Jewish and Muslim students
Other students told the DP they appreciated the steps to address antisemitism and Islamophobia, even if parts were "too broad," with many expressing hope for Penn to take more steps to address Islamophobia specifically.
A central criticism by some community members has been Magill's lack of recognition of Muslim students and the violence faced by Palestinian civilians in her previous statements on the escalating violence in Gaza and Israel. But several Muslim students told the DP the action plan was reassuring, if not a perfect recognition of their needs.
"I think there’s definitely been a lot of hate coming toward Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian students who are speaking out or doing anything remotely in support of Palestine, so I appreciate Liz Magill for really highlighting that in her statement,” Wharton senior and Muslim Student Association President Rayane Taroua said.
Other students agreed, adding that the action plan "recognized" the Muslim community.
"As for Muslim students, it’s a bit of acknowledgement that the University does recognize us as a community that is also facing similar issues," Wharton sophomore and Muslim Student Association University Relations Chair Mouctar Diarra, who spoke to Magill at a recent University Council meeting, said.
Penn mentioned multiple steps in its action plan, including efforts to increase security around Muslim centers at Penn, as well as a presidential commission to address the "interconnectedness of antisemitism and other forms of hate" faced by Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab communities.
"I assume it's not going to be enough, but I'm glad that she's making the first right steps in regards to it," College sophomore Selma Farsakh Ulm told the DP, praising Magill for acknowledging the difficulty of being Palestinian at Penn.
A Penn student involved in last week’s pro-Palestinian walk-out, who requested anonymity due to fear of personal safety, praised Magill for countering antisemitism but said Penn has not yet accounted for the atmosphere faced by other students on campus.
“In spite of a mention of the struggle of Palestine-aligned students for the first time, [the] University still proposes no action to help their Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students feel safe in the face of massive threats,” the student wrote to the DP.
Moving forward, Linhart said she hopes that Jewish students “can feel more and more safe here,” adding that she also hopes that Magill issues a statement outlining "just as many points" about ensuring the safety of Muslim and Arab students.
Diarra said that MSA and the Penn Arab Student Society have continued to have conversations with University leadership to better support the Muslim community.
Concerns about timing and motives
Other students said that they wanted the University to do more to address Islamophobia. Starobin said that Magill's silence on Palestinian students’ rights to safety and respect “raise[s] alarm bells."
“She said that she was going to meet with Jewish student leaders and Jewish students quarterly at a minimum. But where are those meetings with Palestinian students?” one student, who was granted anonymity for fear of retaliation, told the DP.
As part of its plan, Penn has increased security at several University-affiliated religious life centers and will hire a new administrator with a skill set to prevent and respond to antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate.
“I would have liked [Magill] to specify who is perpetrating hate and causing an unsafe environment for students,” College senior Eyal Yakoby, who spoke at a recent pro-Israel rally, said. “It will take beyond just words and condemning it and actions against perpetrators of hate on campus.”
For former donors and trustees who publicly condemned the University’s handling of antisemitism, the action plan was not enough to regain their support of Penn leadership.
Wharton Board of Advisors Chair Marc Rowan — who called on donors to "close their checkbooks" until Magill and Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok step down — wrote in a statement to the DP that "protection from racism is what we were entitled to 10 years ago. It’s the bare minimum."
“Without both a change in the culture that allowed antisemitism to take root and addressing the plunge in Jewish matriculation, none of this matters,” Rowan wrote.
Vahan Gureghian, who resigned from the Board of Trustees in protest of University leadership, wrote to the DP that the action plan "is a good first step in the University’s road to recovery from the terrible controversy that has crippled this once great institution.”
However, he said that it took too much time and pressure for Magill to announce the plan.
“The silence over the past few weeks is indicative of these leaders just hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass,” Gureghian wrote.
Penn is only the second Ivy League to announce a plan of such a scale after Harvard University President Claudine Gay launched the formation of an advisory group to combat antisemitism earlier this week. Columbia University also announced the creation of an antisemitism task force to “enhance [the University's] ability to address this ancient, but terribly resilient, form of hatred” on Nov. 1.
Still, some students said that the action plan might have come from pressure from the donors.
“Reading this letter, while I'm very, very happy that [Magill] sent out this great step forward in combating hate on campus, I realize that it's definitely a coerced email in some form,” Small told the DP.
One Penn student who was granted anonymity out of fear of retaliation told the DP that she felt that Magill’s action plan is focusing on “where the money is" rather than students concerned about doxxing and having their names broadcast on trucks on campus — referencing mobile billboards at Harvard and Columbia.