Penn faculty, students receive violent threats after involvement in pro-Palestinian demonstrations | #schoolsaftey

Multiple Penn faculty members and students who spoke at pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus have received threats to their personal safety via email and social media.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Multiple Penn faculty members and students have received threats following their involvement as speakers during pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus. 

The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with several Penn community members who have received threats to their personal safety via email and social media from undisclosed individuals after they publicly voiced their support of Palestinian. These threats come after recent demonstrations held on campus over the last two weeks in solidarity with Palestinians on Oct. 16, Oct. 18, and Oct. 25. 

A Penn professor who spoke at one of the pro-Palestinian rallies on Penn’s campus, who was granted anonymity due to fear of retaliation, told the DP she had received a violent death threat and multiple harassing messages via email. She said she subsequently reported these threats to members of the Penn administration but did not receive messaging from higher-level administrators. 

“I received one line from the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and a longer follow-up from the humanities dean, but nothing from the president and the provost,” the professor said.

Administrators at the School of Arts and Sciences told the DP that they had received notice of the threats.

“The Dean’s office is aware of these troubling incidents, and as it does in any situation where the safety of a member of our community is threatened, has made Penn’s Division of Public Safety aware of them immediately,” SAS Dean Steven Fluharty and Associate Dean for Arts and Letters Jeffrey Kallberg wrote to the DP. “The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is of foremost importance.”

The same professor highlighted the importance and impact of the University’s statements. Penn President Liz Magill’s second statement to the Penn community since the start of ongoing violence in the region did not mention Israel’s ongoing siege and airstrikes in Gaza in response to the Hamas attack — which have contributed to a mounting death toll of Palestinian civilians — or the toll of the conflict on Palestinian students on campus. 

“It is necessary for the administration at Penn to say that they support everybody on campus,” the professor said. “They must name Palestinians, Arabs — Palestinians, particularly — and their allies.”

Another Penn faculty member involved with the pro-Palestinian demonstrations, who was granted anonymity due to safety concerns, has also received threats via email and has expressed concern for their family and personal well-being.

“I feel I want to say more, but I am afraid for my family’s well-being, for my own well-being as a [parent] who has a daughter, and responsibilities towards both my partner and my daughter,” the faculty member wrote in a statement to the DP. 

The faculty member also criticized the University for not adequately supporting those who feel unsafe.

“Maybe if UPenn and Liz Magill addressed [these threats] openly, we would feel more safe,” the faculty member wrote. “But again the University has failed to offer us any words of sympathy, so we don’t expect that they will offer us any practical steps to ensure our safety.”

The nature and source of the threats have not been specified to the DP at this time out of caution for the personal safety of those involved and legal concerns.

In a statement on Oct. 18, Magill warned that hate speech and violence are not tolerated on campus, expressing support for peaceful protests and the University’s support of free speech.

“Penn will not tolerate and will take immediate action against any incitement to violence or, of course, actual violence,” Magill wrote.

Despite the threats that the anonymous Penn professor has received, she has not changed her class format or adjusted her daily life. 

“I feel good going into class and meeting my students face to face,” the professor said. “They give me a lot of strength.”

Karen Redrobe, a professor of Cinema and Media Studies who was involved in the pro-Palestinian demonstration on Oct. 16, said she has not received any threats nor hate mail but said that many faculty members who spoke at the rallies have.

“There are some serious threats to the very possibility of the University as a space of true learning on the table at the moment, and I believe we must do everything we can to protect academic freedom,” Redrobe wrote to the DP. 

In response to recent events, the Faculty Senate Tri-Chairs — composed of professors Tulia Falleti, Eric Feldman, and Vivian Gadsden, who serve as the chair, chair-elect, and past chair, respectively — released a statement on Oct. 19, expressing their support for academic freedom.

“We stand in solidarity with all University of Pennsylvania faculty, staff, and students whose research, work, or study has been affected by the recent efforts of intimidation,” the statement read.

Some students also alleged that they have been harassed for their pro-Palestinian support.

Hilah Kohen, a Ph.D. student in the Comparative Literature and Literary Theory program, shared with the DP that they, alongside other Jews who have supported Palestinian, have been the target of harassment.

“My Palestinian friends and non-Zionist Jewish friends on campus have been the ones offering peer-to-peer solace and support while administrators have publicly pretended we don’t exist,” Kohen said.

Another student who participated in at least one of the Palestinian walkouts, who requested anonymity for fear of safety, wrote that they “have not faced any harassment or targeting yet, although there are currently fears of doxxing going around.” 

“Doxxing trucks,” sponsored by conservative media group Accuracy in Media, have appeared at Harvard University and Columbia University in recent weeks, featuring a digital billboard displaying the names and faces of students, describing them as antisemitic for their alleged involvement in signing onto pro-Palestinian statements.

On Wednesday and Thursday, a truck sponsored by the same organization and calling on Magill to resign appeared parked on Walnut Street.

Harun Küçük, a History and Sociology of Science professor and faculty director of the Middle East Center, told the DP that he has been collecting reports of harassment from students and faculty.

Küçük said that many of the messages labeled the Palestinian supporters as antisemitic, both via email and on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. He added that many Jewish people who have been involved with or supported either the Palestine Writes Literature Festival or the rallies in solidarity with Palestinian have been called “self-hating Jews.” 

“That kind of attitude is partly because the administration has not said anything positive about these protests,” Küçük said. 

Beyond these instances, Küçük said there have been “more disturbing things” in the “violent” and “threatening” emails sent to faculty and students. Küçük also said that it is not trivial that many of the targets for these threats have been women of color.

Küçük said that although many people have now sent these threats to DPS, faculty members, and students did not originally feel comfortable reporting them because they did not feel supported by the University.

“Public Safety provides support resources to anyone who feels their personal safety is threatened,” DPS wrote in response to a request for comment.

On Oct. 17, DPS sent a message to Penn community members amid the recent campus demonstrations, where they acknowledged community members who have “expressed concern for their sense of safety” given the violence between Israel and Hamas and “the growing activism on campus and more broadly in the world.”

“Penn Police will take immediate action should there be any physical threat of harm and pursue it to the fullest extent of the law,” Vice President for Public Safety Kathleen Shields Anderson wrote in the message.

These threats of retaliation for those who participated in the pro-Palestinian events last week also come on the heels of significant University donors pulling their donations. 

Jon Huntsman Jr. and Ronald Lauder are among notable donors pledging to “close their checkbooks,” citing dissatisfaction with University administration’s response to antisemitism on campus both in regards to the Palestine Writes festival and the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas.

The faculty members expressed that the lack of satisfactory action to respond to the threats contributes to a feeling of exclusion from the administration.

“[The administration] should do a better job of making the faculty feel like they belong,” Küçük said. “So far there is basically a good section of the faculty that [Penn] doesn’t really care about, and that’s really no way to be for an institution like this.”

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