Yale News

NEW YORK CITY –– Around 200 Yale students, alumni and parents gathered in Central Synagogue on Wednesday night to attend the Forum for Antisemitism at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale. The forum’s three keynote speakers were Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, French professor Maurice Samuels and Elisha Wiesel ’94.

Gendler — who was one of eight people on the News’ September shortlist to be the next Yale president — spent much of the night lauding the Yale administration’s approach to campus antisemitism in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. She credited the University’s “intellectual, structural and cultural” foundations as making it easier for Yale than almost any other institution to tackle campus antisemitism.

Specifically, Gendler described the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism, the University’s residential college system and close student-professor relations for keeping campus discourse “mostly calm.” 

“A lot of what we’ve done has been quiet, offside conversations,” to explain to students that their “words were more hurtful than [they] realized,” Gendler said.

This practice has been implemented by each of the 14 heads of college, facilitating intimate, moderated discussions about on-campus discourse and tensions between students, she said.

Gendler also mentioned that she’s part of an administrative group that meets at least once a week to discuss “every single event” that occurs on campus. 

“We spend every week, probably four to five times a day making an effort to put out small fires with small buckets of water,” Gendler said. 

One of the group’s initiatives, she said, was encouraging professors to check in with students in their classes in the aftermath of Oct. 7 to make sure they were doing okay. 

On tension between free speech and inclusive campus environment

Gendler touted the administration’s commitment to promoting free speech on campus while also fostering an inclusive campus environment. 

“Free speech is most effective in an environment where people are prepared to hear it,” she said. “And people are most prepared to hear free speech in an environment where they feel respected and comfortable.”

An ideal college campus, she said, is one that rests in an “equilibrium state” between these two factors. 

In recent years, she explained, Yale has had a “number of crises” which led the campus to focus particularly on allowing individuals to feel comfortable. 

Without naming specific cases, Gendler said that some of the University’s interventions that were intended to make students feel more comfortable “turned out to be counterproductive.”

“Navigating this moment,” she said, “where the concern is respecting free speech while allowing comfort for our students, has led to lots of moments where we didn’t get it right and a bunch where we have.”

In October, the News spoke with several both Jewish and Muslim students who reported feeling concerned for their physical safety as well as their emotional well-being on campus. That same month, the University defended professor Zareena Grewal’s right to free speech after Grewal made comments on X — formerly Twitter — the morning of Oct. 7 that stated, “Palestinians have every right to resist through armed struggle,” prompting a student-led petition calling for her firing that gained over 25,000 signatures in less than two days. 

Four days later, Julia Adams, current head of Grace Hopper College, affirmed “academic freedom and the expression of views and dissent” after a student wrote “Death to Palestine” and other anti-Palestine messages on an entryway whiteboard in the college. In November, a group of more than 100 Yale faculty and staff members signed an open letter pledging to defend students targeted by a campus “doxxing truck,” including “nonviolent direct action, up to and including arrest.” In December, a University administrator admitted to “administrative errors” after allowing a student to take down a banner naming killed Palestinians. 

Most recently, the Yale Women’s Center voted to indefinitely postpone its annual conference, “Pinkwashing and Feminism(s) in Gaza,” amid separate threats of disciplinary action from administrators, who reached out to board members concerning discrimination complaints due to their lack of response to messages from a student leader of Yale Friends of Israel.

On Israel-Palestine campus discourse

Asked to speak on the role that education plays in mitigating ignorance and false accusations in campus dialogue, Gendler responded that she sees the value of education as “providing you with alternative perspectives.”

She referred to Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza as a “genuinely complex issue,” and called herself a “big believer in understanding the ability of history to change minds.”

“A very deep part of that is understanding it’s not just this moment that explains the deep structure of history,” Gendler said. “My suspicion is the more history our students understood, the more genuinely complex this issue would feel for them.”

The Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life was opened in 1995. 

Ben Raab covers faculty and academics at Yale and writes about the Yale men's basketball team. Originally from New York City, Ben is a sophomore in Pierson college pursuing a double major in history and political science.