Messages declare ‘Death to Palestine’ on Hopper whiteboard
Last week, anti-Palestine messages in English and Hebrew were written on an entryway whiteboard; the Grace Hopper Head of College sent an email to students affirming “academic freedom” and urging adherence “to accepted standards of mutual tolerance.” The email did not explicitly mention the whiteboard messages.
Yale Daily News
A message declaring “Death to Palestine” was written on a whiteboard outside of a suite in Grace Hopper College on Monday, Oct. 9. Later that evening, the initial message had been replaced with three Hebrew phrases, which translate to “death to Palestine,” “children of whores” and “they are pussies.”
At least one student reported the message later in the week to Hopper’s dean and head of college. In an email to all Hopper students on Saturday, Oct. 14, Head of College Julia Adams affirmed “academic freedom and the expression of views and dissent” without explicitly mentioning the whiteboard messages.
The incident coincides with escalating violence in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, and also with growing student safety concerns on campus. On Oct. 7, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel; the next day, Israel formally declared war. The invasion prompted Israeli military retaliation and a “complete siege” of Gaza, and in the days since, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has escalated as Israel signals preparation for a significant ground invasion.
“A student writing ‘Death to Palestine,’ while [they share] a dining hall, classrooms, common spaces, and a campus with Palestinian students should be gravely concerning to everyone,” a Hopper student wrote to the News; the student requested anonymity due to personal security concerns, specifically fear of doxxing. “It’s one of the reasons why many Arab and Muslim students feel frustrated by the lack of action or support offered to them by the university.”
On the evening of Monday, Oct. 9, someone erased the original “Death to Palestine” message and replaced it with the three Hebrew phrases. Before Adams sent her Saturday email, someone erased the Hebrew messages, which were at some point replaced with the English words “Peace and Love.”
The News was unable to confirm who wrote or erased any of the messages on the Hopper suite’s whiteboard aside from the original “Death to Palestine” message, which was written by a student who lives in the associated suite.
That student told the News that neither they nor their suitemates wrote the other messages. The News granted anonymity to the student due to specific safety concerns, which the student said were raised to them by the University and the Yale Police Department.
“I apologize for writing the original message, which did not involve the others in the suite, on the suite’s white board and never intended for it to be a threat to any member of the Yale community or an attack on the Palestinian or Muslim people,” the student wrote to the News. “My passions were inflamed given personal impact on my family from terrorism, and I meant to register my strong opposition to the Hamas regime oppressing the Palestinian people as opposed to the Palestinian people themselves. I am also sorry that this has drawn any attention away from the many lives that have been lost.”
In the days since the messages were written, several individuals and organizations within the Yale community — including Hopper’s head of college, the Yale Police Department and the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale — have sought to address the situation.
While Adams did not explicitly mention the war or the whiteboard messages in her Saturday email to Hopper students, she described current circumstances as a “challenging period.”
“The conflicts besetting our world inevitably give rise to tensions at Yale, including in Hopper,” Adams wrote in her email. “It is therefore an appropriate moment for us to pause and remember what it means to be part of a community of scholars, students, faculty and staff.”
In the email, Adams described Yale as a place in which “academic freedom and the expression of views and dissent are rightly protected.” She referred to Yale’s Woodward Report — a 1974 committee report on freedom of expression — as a guiding model. The Woodward report was endorsed by faculty in 1975 and informs Yale College’s Undergraduate Regulations.
Adams added, however, that residential colleges represent unique places for free-speech “tensions.”
“Because the residential college specifically is also a home away from home, the place where we live, eat, and congregate as a community, tensions can be particularly acute here,” Adams wrote. “Given this fact, I ask that at minimum we all adhere to accepted standards of mutual tolerance, giving due consideration to others with whom we live but who may not have shared views on the conflicts surrounding and embroiling us.”
She referred students to Yale Police Chief Anthony Campbell’s ’95 DIV ’09 public safety message from Friday, Oct. 13, in which he wrote that “many members of the Yale community” had raised safety concerns with YPD.
In his message, Campbell said that “the FBI and other agencies” were unaware of any “credible threat” against the University or any member of its community.
Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis said on Oct. 12 that there had “not been an issue yet” with threats against Yale students.
The anonymous Hopper student quoted at the beginning of this article also shared frustration with the University’s response to the whiteboard messages in Hopper.
“While I understand and appreciate Yale’s commitment to ‘academic freedom and the expression of views,’ I think college administration failed to draw a boundary here,” the student wrote. “Students have received abusive and vile language from their own peers, without any firm action or support from the college they call home. How are they supposed to feel safe?”
Jason Rubenstein, the University’s Jewish chaplain, addressed the Hopper College incident in a message on Sunday, Oct. 15, addressed to members of Yale’s Jewish community. He said that the messages written in Hopper do not represent the views of the Slifka community and that the Slifka Center is opposed to group-based discrimination in all forms, regardless of who is targeted.
The message followed an earlier Thursday, Oct. 12, message from Rubenstein about the Slifka Center’s safety resources and community values.
“[Nothing] justifies hateful speech, retaliation, or doxxing of anyone, no matter what they’ve said or tweeted or celebrated,” Rubenstein wrote in the Thursday email. “This applies a thousand-fold to hateful speech directed against entire groups, be they Palestinians, Muslims, or others. Just because we have been grievously harmed does not mean that we are incapable of harming others in turn – nor does it mean we would be justified in doing so.”
Rubenstein echoed these comments in his Sunday email, expressing his “disbelief that such things must be said in the first place” and adding that he hopes he will not need “to refer to them again.”
He instructed anyone who knew of individuals or groups feeling targeted to inform the Slifka Center so that the center could provide “solidarity and protection.”
“We as the Jewish community will do whatever we can to support Palestinian students and Muslim students at this moment when they are experiencing so much fear — and always,” Rubenstein wrote in the Sunday email.
Grace Hopper College was renamed from Calhoun College in 2017.