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Civility During Conflict

Dear members of the Northwestern community,

The bloodshed in the Middle East has continued unabated following the murderous attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 and the taking of hostages. The loss of life among Jews and Palestinians is unbearable. In our own community, students, faculty, staff and alumni are scared and hurting. We know many of you are angry, and some have direct ties to loved ones who have died in Israel and Gaza, compounding the grief.

We have heard from community members who feel unsafe on our campuses and others who feel overwhelmed by the unfolding war in the Middle East, making it difficult to focus on schoolwork, research, instruction or common tasks. Some have strong feelings about what is happening in Israel and Gaza but are afraid to speak out because they are fearful of reprisals, of being doxed or becoming a target of hate. Others are afraid of saying anything either because of a lack of understanding or the fear of being perceived as insensitive or worse.

At Northwestern, we are proud to be part of a diverse community, one that embraces Jewish people, Palestinian people and people of many races and religions. With diversity comes difference and the opportunity for greater understanding and personal transformation. These differences also can lead to conflict and animosity. 

We are committed to the values of free expression and academic freedom. A commitment to free speech, though, is not a license to hurt one another. We ask that you consider how your speech and your actions affect those around you, especially if your words could be construed as antisemitic, Islamophobic or racist. These sentiments are simply unacceptable in our community and inconsistent with our community values.

Indifference to the suffering of Palestinians is harmful and dehumanizing. So are arguments or slogans in support of a terrorist group that killed innocent civilians. Neither is consistent with our shared human values.

We know that for many in our community, deeply held beliefs guide actions and words, and we fully support the expression of those views. But this is not the time for our Northwestern community to demonize, insult or dox one another. It is not the time for incendiary postings or banners. Instead, it is a moment for us to pull together, to support one another and to show mutual respect.

We have spoken before about Northwestern’s values. Many of them seem particularly important today. We champion access, diversity and belonging; we encourage debate; we strengthen our community and perhaps most importantly, we care about one another. We cannot and must not abandon our last value — caring about one another — even if we strongly disagree about vital issues, such as the ongoing war in the Middle East.

University leaders and support units from across Northwestern have engaged in conversations with students, faculty and staff individually and in groups. We will congregate again in the coming days and weeks in vigils, small-group discussions and academic dialogues. Northwestern Police has increased patrols and are available at 847-491-3456 on the Evanston campus or at 312-503-3456 on the Chicago campus if you ever feel unsafe.

As a university, our mission is to transform the world through knowledge creation and transmission. That cannot happen unless we are working together, across divisions, across deeply held beliefs, in pursuit of common good. Our goal is to learn from one another in the interest of finding answers to the most complicated and vexing problems facing humanity.