Faculty pen letter pledging to defend doxxed students, including ‘nonviolent direct action, up to and including arrest’
More than 100 Yale faculty and staff members signed an open letter in defense of students targeted by the “doxxing truck” before the November recess.
Nathaniel Rosenberg, Contributing Photographer
Over 100 Yale faculty and staff members signed an open letter in defense of students targeted by the so-called “doxxing truck,” which came to New Haven for three days to display names and photos of students it proclaimed “Yale’s Leading Antisemites.”
The truck, sponsored by conservative advocacy group Accuracy in Media, first appeared on Yale’s campus on Thursday, Nov. 16, and the letter was published Nov. 17. The truck continued to display Yale students on Nov. 17 and included both Yale and Harvard University students on the day of the Yale-Harvard football game on Nov. 18.
“We write as faculty, staff, and other members of the Yale University community who are deeply concerned about the repression of free expression on university campuses,” the letter reads. “We are committed to academic freedom and debate, and we wish to emphasize the importance of protecting all members of the university, particularly students, postdoctoral fellows, and other vulnerable members, in a climate of increasing harassment.”
The letter affirms support for the rights of Yale students to engage in nonviolent protest and lists four pledges to students and colleagues who are using “words, research, music, social media and civil disobedience to actively protest the war in Gaza.”
The signatories pledged to protect students’ rights to free speech and nonviolent assembly on campus, and also affirmed their willingness to engage in “nonviolent direct action, up to and including arrest” to protect students against “censuring groups.” They also pledged to “amplify” student “cries for justice” and maintain open, curious spaces for learning in and out of the classroom.
“I signed and indeed helped to craft that letter because the right to study and critique state violence is fundamental,” Roderick Ferguson, a professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies and American studies, told the News. “And if we can’t protect that right — especially at a university, then there are a great many principles that we would surrender.”
The letter also denounces “the wrongful accusation of ‘antisemitism’ for individuals who ‘question Israel’s current actions’” as creating a climate of intimidation and harassment that takes away from the mission of educational institutions; it further notes that conflating critique of Israel with antisemitism is “politically driven” and says that a number of Jewish writers, activists and artists have called such conflation “‘antithetical to Jewish values.’”
“To suggest that critiquing a state for its actions against civilians amounts to racism is not only illogical but is also antithetical to the mission of academic inquiry,” the letter states. “Our intellectual mandate is degraded when we leave our students unprotected or we let misguided discourse and baseless attacks go unaddressed.”
Faculty who signed the letter include 19 members of the American Studies Department, 17 from the History Department, 15 from the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, 14 from the English Department, 13 from the Ethnicity, Race and Migration Department and 10 from the African American Studies Department, as well as 11 from the School of the Environment.
Greta Lafleur, the director of graduate studies for the American Studies Department and who signed the letter, wrote that they were particularly alarmed to see the truck broadcast the names and faces of five graduate students in their department.
LaFleur said they signed the letter for multiple reasons but that the “first and absolutely most important” reason was the truck’s “clear targeting” of Black, brown, Southeast Asian, Muslim and Jewish students.
LeFleur added that they think Accuracy in Media, or AIM, likely picked the names of students off of the list of signatories to an Oct. 17 “Statement on the Yale Administration’s Position towards the Ongoing Violence in Palestine,” which criticized University President Peter Salovey’s initial statement on the war. The student statement called on the Yale administration to “take a moral stand against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and the genocide of the Palestinian people.”
Despite there being 1,193 names attached to that letter, LaFleur wrote that the group operating the doxxing truck chose to exclude white, non-Jewish and non-Muslim students who had signed it.
“It is clear to me that AIM cherry-picked the signatories it would target on the basis of race and religion,” they wrote. “It weaponized racism and Islamophobia to make its specious claim about antisemitism, which is devastating in turn given that actual antisemitism has been markedly on the rise.”
By Friday, Nov. 17, the truck had targeted at least 15 graduate students. The News reported that 12 of those 15 were students of color but has not confirmed their religious affiliations.
LaFleur’s comments echoed the letter, which expressed specific concern with the “vicious targeting, public shaming, and surveillance of faculty and students of color in particular.”
Adam Guillette, the president of AIM, wrote in an email to the News that the organization targeted “hateful students who signed an antisemitic pledge” at Yale. He called LaFleur’s claim that the truck targeted Black, Brown and Muslim students “baseless.”
Yale denounced the doxxing incidents in a Nov. 16 statement on Nov. 16 and added that the University had reached out to students who appeared on the trucks “to provide support and resources.” The University Registrar emailed students on Nov. 17 with a “Student Directory Opt-out Option,” to inform students of the steps to removing their name from Yale’s directory. While the Nov. 17 email did not mention the doxxing campaign, it reflected similar guidance as in one of the resources promoted on Nov. 16.
AIM currently faces a lawsuit — which a doxxed Columbia student filed on Monday, Nov. 13 — for violation of civil rights, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.