Multiple Penn staff members received antisemitic emails threatening violence against Jewish community members and naming Penn Hillel and Lauder College House, Penn President Liz Magill said Monday afternoon.
In a message to the University community, Magill wrote that the threats targeted the recipients' personal identities. Penn's Division of Public Safety was notified of the threats and conducted safety sweeps of Hillel and Lauder, finding "no credible threat at this time." It is unclear who sent the threats and when the emails were received, although Magill wrote that "a small number" of staff members reported receiving emails.
Penn Police and the FBI are conducting a joint investigation after Penn Police informed the FBI of a potential hate crime. Magill wrote that Penn Police will remain on site and increase its security presence throughout Penn in response to the threats. She also said that DPS is working with the FBI to identify those responsible for the emails and "ensure they are apprehended and punished to the fullest extent of the law."
"The perniciousness of antisemitic acts on our campus is causing deep hurt and fear for our Jewish students, faculty, and staff and shaking their sense of safety and belonging at Penn," Magill wrote, condemning the threats.
A statement from Hillel on Monday afternoon said that University administration contacted Hillel immediately and increased security in and around the Hillel building. DPS — in consultation with the FBI — searched the Hillel building multiple times, including with a bomb-sniffing dog unit.
The Hillel statement said that — after consultation with DPS and the Secure Communities Network of the Jewish Federation — the building will remain open and in use, adding that the situation is continuing to be monitored.
“All Jewish students deserve a learning environment that is safe and free from antisemitism and hate,” the Penn Hillel statement reads. “At Penn Hillel, our doors are open for anyone who needs a safe space to process, find comfort and community with other Jewish students and staff, learn about the war in Israel, or just show up and be here.”
In a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, the FBI confirmed they were aware of the threats made to Penn's Jewish community and involved in the ongoing investigation.
"We take all threats seriously and are working closely with Penn Police and our law enforcement partners at every level to assess the situation, share information, and take appropriate investigative action," a spokesperson wrote. "We encourage members of the public to immediately report anything they consider suspicious to law enforcement. Nothing is more important than the safety of our communities and we will not tolerate violence motivated by hate and extremism."
These threats follow a number of antisemitic incidents on Penn’s campus that have occurred since the start of semester.
A vacant Campus Apartments property next to the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi was vandalized with “All Jews R Nazis” last month. DPS has since launched an investigation into the antisemitic vandalism.
In addition, a spray-painted swastika — which has since been painted over — was discovered in a spray room on the fourth floor of Meyerson Hall in the Stuart Weitzman School of Design on the evening of Sept. 13, two days before the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Hillel was vandalized in September, during which an individual shouted antisemitic rhetoric while knocking over furniture in the lobby.
Following the vandalism at Meyerson and Hillel, Penn administrators condemned the incidents.
"They are an assault on our values and mission as an institution and have no place at Penn," the administrators wrote. "Sadly, incidents of hatred, including antisemitic rhetoric and acts that denigrate Jewish people, have become all too common."
The threats also come just over a week after a similar incident at Cornell University, where online posts threatened Jewish students and the school's Center for Jewish Living. A Cornell student was later charged in connection with making antisemitic threats.
Lauder College House is named after the Lauder family, which includes 1965 Wharton graduate Ronald Lauder. Lauder is president of the World Jewish Congress, a global alliance of Jewish community groups and associations.
Last month, Lauder halted his donations to Penn, after writing to Magill that she was "forcing" him to reexamine his financial support "absent satisfactory measures to address antisemitism at the University."
Also in October, Penn committed extra funding to meet Hillel’s extra security needs through the end of the 2024-25 school year, the organization said in an email addressing concerns about the safety of Jewish students.
Hillel also submitted formal complaints to the University regarding the conduct of a pro-Palestinian rally held on campus, specifically addressing poster-tearing and some of the language used — which the email accused of violating the University’s Guidelines on Open Expression.
On Wednesday, Magill established a University-wide plan to combat antisemitism on campus. While many commended the plan, some students told the DP that they wanted to see follow-through from the University or a stronger commitment to combatting Islamophobia on campus.
As part of the plan, DPS will conduct a review of existing safety and security message for all religious life centers, adding that there has been heightened security for Hillel, the Katz Center, Lubavitch House, campus spaces for Muslim worship, and the Christian Association since September.
A number of rallies, vigils, protests, and demonstrations in support of both Israel and Palestinians have been held on campus in the weeks since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. Most recently, around 300 Penn community members and alumni rallied in support of Israel on Friday, emphasizing the strength of the Jewish community while also criticizing the Penn administration’s response to antisemitism on campus.
In response to their attendance at pro-Palestinian events, some attendees, including Penn faculty and students, have received threatening messages on social media and via email.
"My first and highest priority is the safety and security of our community," Magill wrote. "Threats of violence are not tolerated at Penn and will be met with swift and forceful action."
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