More than 1,200 people identifying themselves as Harvard College students and alumni have signed an open letter to top administrators calling for more action to protect Jewish students from antisemitism as controversy over the war between Israel and Hamas continues to roil the campus.
The group, which calls itself the Harvard College Jewish Alumni Association, also seeks formal recognition from Harvard as a special interest group in the undated letter addressed to university President Claudine Gay and Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana.
The letter requests an in-person meeting with campus leaders to discuss “a steady uptick in reported incidents of harassment” at Harvard that began even before Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that spurred the war in Gaza.
The letter calls for a plan “to curb the dissemination of hate speech and to limit the disruptiveness of rallies so that they do not interfere with students’ abilities to participate in their classes, to enter into their own dorms, and to move peacefully through the campus.” It also requests that religion be added as a targeted category for harassment in the student handbook.
The group also asks for a commission “to study the roots of antisemitism on campus by investigating whether aspects of the university curriculum, the [diversity, equity, and inclusion] framework, faculty training (or the lack thereof), and certain campus events perpetuate unreflective narratives about Jewish people and the state of Israel.”
Rebecca Brooks, a 2017 Harvard graduate and an organizer for the Jewish alumni association, said it hopes to cooperate and collaborate with administrators.
“We’re really coming at this from the posture of wanting to work with the university, and not so much a protest campaign as it is coming from a place of deep concern,” she said in an interview. “It’s an intergenerational group, and we just don’t want to see Harvard’s campus devolve in the way other campuses have devolved across the country. We think the university will be reasonable and we really want to work with them.”
Jason Newton, a Harvard spokesperson, said Wednesday the university became aware of the letter on Oct. 24. He declined further comment, but pointed to Gay’s announcement Friday that she has convened a group of faculty, staff, alumni, and Jewish religious leaders to combat antisemitism at the university.
“As we grapple with this resurgence of bigotry, I want to make one thing absolutely clear: Antisemitism has no place at Harvard,” Gay, who became the university’s president in July, said Friday in a speech at a Shabbat dinner hosted by Harvard Hillel, a Jewish campus group.
“For years, this university has done too little to confront its continuing presence. No longer,” she continued, according to a copy of the remarks Harvard posted online.
The announcement came weeks after Gay began facing criticism from alumni, donors, and even former Harvard president Larry Summers for not immediately rebuking a letter initially signed by about 30 student groups that placed the blame for the Oct. 7 Hamas attack entirely on Israel.
Last week, Harvard created a separate task force to help students who have faced intimidation and harassment after being linked, sometimes falsely, to the letter.
Hilary Burns and Mike Damiano of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from previous Globe stories was also used.