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Protestors wrapped a keffiyeh around the Ben Franklin statue in front of College Hall on April 25. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

As a Penn parent, I received an email on Apr. 26 signed by Interim Penn President Larry Jameson, Provost John L. Jackson Jr., and Senior Executive Vice President Craig R. Carnaroli. The email claimed “legal and policy violations'' by the Penn encampment protesters based on vague allegations of "harassing and intimidating conduct" and threatened the students who will continue to protest with "sanctions." No specific examples of harassment, threats, or intimidation were offered in the letter, which appears to be an attempt to demonize the students who exercise their right to free speech enshrined in the United States Constitution and express views inconvenient to Penn's administration.

I am also very disappointed that the letter did not discuss any of the protesters’ demands nor any attempts by the University leadership to engage with the protesters and discuss these demands. Moreover, the administration did not even mention the “elephant in the room” — the ongoing genocide in Gaza, which prompted our children to occupy College Green. The allegations of genocide were well-documented by the South African charge to the International Court of Justice and ruled to be credible by the Court in January of this year. The daily genocidal attacks on the Palestinian people are evident from reports, photography, and videos published on social media. 

The complicity of the current U.S. administration in supplying bombs and ammunition — facilitating the mass murder of more than 30,000 Palestinian civilians, the majority of whom are women and children — is likewise evident. Moreover, our well-educated and critically-thinking children see the close connection between Penn, which named its Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement after the current U.S. president, and the Biden administration, which sent former Penn President Amy Gutmann to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Germany. 

Our students, currently gathered on College Green, are the best and brightest of the University. What they have to offer to humanity is morality and empathy. They are deeply disturbed by the atrocities committed in our name and want straight answers about Penn’s connection to the military-industrial complex profiting from the current carnage. They demand divestment from the regime, which for dozens of years occupied and oppressed the Palestinian people, and now is engaged in their wholesale slaughter. Our students adorned a campus statue of American revolutionary Benjamin Franklin with the Palestinian flag and keffiyeh, symbols of resistance. I believe he would be proud of this nonviolent protest.

Students protesting injustice on college campuses is not a new and unique phenomenon. Moreover, these acts of resistance proved to be successful on many occasions. 50 years ago, anti-Vietnam War protests contributed to stopping the bloody conflict, which claimed the lives of 58,000 Americans and more than 2 million Vietnamese. 40 years ago, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement made the brutal South African apartheid regime one of the past. More recently, the BDS campaign designed to pressure the Zionist regime — which, according to the UN Special Rapporteur and several human rights organizations, including the esteemed Amnesty International, created a “cruel system of domination and crime against humanity” — to grant full rights to Arab Palestinians resulted in divestment and academic boycotts by dozens of American and Canadian universities.

Given its place as one of America's premier academic institutions, Penn is expected to hold itself to a higher level of discourse. Instead, it has chosen to bend to external pressure and cast its students as pariahs.

The scenes of police violence perpetrated on peaceful student protesters at Columbia University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Southern California by intellectually shallow and irresponsible administrators at those institutions made me, a parent, extremely worried. As a concerned Penn parent, I urge the Penn administration to engage in an open and transparent dialogue with the protesters while ensuring the safety and security of everyone involved. What the students are doing is not an isolated incident of disruption — it is an act of moral conviction and solidarity. It is a part of a national and worldwide movement to achieve peace and justice for the Palestinian people and stop the genocide perpetrated against them by the Israeli war machine armed, funded, and supported by the Biden administration.

NATALIE MINKOVSKY is a former biomedical researcher at the Perelman School of Medicine. She currently teaches biology at the Community College of Baltimore County. She can be reached at