Courtesy of Maytal Saltiel

After years of student advocacy, Yale has committed to securing a space for Middle Eastern and North African Yalies, University President Peter Salovey announced Thursday morning — part of a longer message on Yale’s actions “to enhance support” for campus members affected by the Israel-Hamas war. Salovey also told the News separately that Yale will take over funding kosher dining at Slifka.

In the email announcement, Salovey wrote that the University is not aware of any credible threats against Yale or any of its community members. He noted one reported incident of physical confrontation and violence, in which a person not affiliated with Yale spat on a student wearing a keffiyeh

Salovey also wrote that he is “deeply disappointed” by incidents on campus that have “erode[d] our sense of belonging to the Yale community,” designating chants that express hatred, calls for the genocide of any group and celebrate the killing of civilians as “utterly against” Yale’s values.

The Dec. 7 email announcement, which Salovey titled “Against Hatred,” explains a series of actions that the University will soon take to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia. Among the action items, Yale will develop two standing committees — one on Jewish student life and another on Middle East and North African and Muslim campus communities — that will report to Secretary and Vice President for University Life Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86. 

Ultimately, Salovey told the News, the committees will advise him on further recommendations about actions Yale can take to make campus safer for students affected by the ongoing war. The initiatives will fall under programming for Belonging at Yale — the umbrella term which the University uses to categorize its diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts.

“In announcing these initiatives, we’ve worked with the members of the Chaplain’s office who have responsibility for Muslim and Jewish students on campus and we’ve tried to talk over our plans with any number of community leaders on campus,” Salovey told the News. “We may not be able to do everything that everyone wants us to do, but we want to make sure that we are taking significant actions that will allow everyone to either learn here or work here in an environment that’s free from prejudice and discrimination.”

The actions come as college and university administrators across the country have come under fire from alumni, faculty and students for their handling of incidents that have unfolded on campus since Hamas’ Oct 7 attack. Since the attack, higher education has seen a rise in reported cases of both Islamophobia and antisemitism. Claudine Gay, Liz Magill ’88 and Sally Kornbluth — the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, respectively —  testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday in a hearing titled “Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism.” All three presidents have since come under scrutiny from politicians, business leaders and donors for evading questions during the hearing about disciplinary measures students might face if they were to call for the genocide of the Jewish people.

At Yale, more than 1,500 alumni, faculty and parents have signed a Nov. 20 letter urging the administration to combat antisemitism on campus. Palestinian and Muslim students have also voiced concerns about their safety following the recent shooting of three Palestinian students in Vermont. Concerns also grew when, in October, anti-Palestinian messages — including “Death to Palestine” — were written on a whiteboard in Grace Hopper College; shortly thereafter, the Hopper Head of College sent an email to students that did not explicitly refer to the whiteboard messages but described Yale as a place in which “academic freedom and the expression of views and dissent are rightly protected.” 

Salovey also said in his Thursday email that the two committees will work together but that he does not yet know what their collaboration will entail. According to the announcement, the University will increase educational programming on both antisemitism and Islamophobia. Heightened security at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, which began as part of a 2022 pilot program, will now be permanent. He added that the Yale Police Department will continue to work with the New Haven Police Department and the Connecticut Intelligence Agency to ensure campus safety. 

Salovey told the News that the University will ensure Slifka Center will also no longer have to use its own resources to provide kosher dining options. His statement reads that Yale will “provide significant additional funding” for this effort.

Among the actions announced is a promise to hire a second Muslim chaplain and secure space on campus for MENA students. Yale College currently has four distinct cultural centers: the Native American Cultural Center, La Casa Cultural, the Afro-American Cultural Center and the Asian American Cultural Center. Along with other student groups, the Yale College Council has lobbied for a distinct cultural center and peer liaison program for MENA students since at least 2018

In the spring of 2022, the Asian American Cultural Center set aside a room for use by MENA students, marking a step forward for students’ demands for greater recognition on campus. This year, three students became Yale’s first peer liaisons specifically for MENA students, a program facilitated by the AACC. 

“MENA students will get more plentiful and fully dedicated space, but Dean Lewis has not yet identified its location,” Salovey wrote to the News. “He is working on that now.”

Goff-Crews told the News that she looks forward to “convening” the two standing committees that will build upon “already established” work at the University meant to foster a space of acknowledgment, respect and belonging among students.

Per Salovey’s announcement, the advisory committee on Jewish student life will “implement and amplify” the work of the Yale Antisemitism Campus Climate group — a 2022 partnership between the Slifka Center and the Hillel International Group’s Campus Climate Initiative. The group submitted its report with their findings and recommendations last week. His announcement adds that the standing committee on MENA and Muslim student life will similarly “formalize and expand” Yale’s existing advisory group for these communities.

“These have been very difficult weeks for many members of our community, particularly those personally impacted, and the work we will need to do going forward will not be easy,” Goff-Crews wrote to the News. “I have great faith in the intellect and good will of our students and other members of our community, and I believe the work President Salovey has announced and that many people at Yale will be engaged in will help us move forward together.”

Interim University Chaplain Maytal Saltiel wrote to the News that the committees on Jewish and MENA and Muslim student life will help support the work of the Chaplain’s Office and University leaders in identifying the needs of Yale’s communities “in times of crisis and beyond.”

Saltiel added that the Chaplain’s Office is available to support any member of the Yale community as the University moves forward on the announced actions.

“There is a lot of pain, fear, and heartbreak in our community and around the world right now,” Saltiel wrote. “I pray that we can take care of ourselves and each other in these difficult moments, lean into our shared humanity and lead from a place of kindness and love.”

The Belonging at Yale initiative was established in 2019.

Benjamin Hernandez covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously reported on international affairs at Yale. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he is a sophomore in Trumbull College majoring in Global Affairs.