The following is an email response from Earlham President Anne Houtman to a group of alumni who shared concerns over the College’s response to violence in the Middle East.
While it is not my standard practice to respond to unsigned messages, I would like to clarify some of the points that you have raised and share some of what we have been doing to support our students.
Today, the lead story in the Chronicle of Higher Education bears the headline “The Israel-Hamas War Is Escalating. Colleges Are Caught in the Middle.” The article begins with a scene playing out on campuses across the country, including Earlham: “Faculty members, donors, and advocates for both sides in the conflict have flooded administrators’ inboxes with a flurry of letters, statements, and petitions in recent weeks, demanding that they denounce, speak up for, or stay silent in response to campus protests against the Israel-Hamas war.”
The article goes on to describe violent campus protests, harsh rhetoric and, in one state university system, a call to shut down campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine.
This is not our experience at Earlham. We have not experienced that level of hatred and divisiveness because we are committed to supporting all of our students, and our students are committed to supporting one another.
Individually and as a community, we are working through our grief over the massive loss of life, horrific violence, and atrocities that are in direct opposition to our Quaker legacy, principles and practices. When we issued a statement to our campus community on Oct. 11, which can be found here, we were the first among our peers in the Great Lakes Colleges Association and the Independent Colleges of Indiana to do so; many have remained silent.
That said, a statement does not necessarily equate to meaningful action. In keeping with our Quaker identity, we have invited all of our community to stop whatever they are doing every day at 12:50 and 3:50 to have a moment of silence to focus on peace and an end to violence and oppression in all the places that they exist in the world. We have organized a weekly gathering for silent worship on one accord — peace. We have encouraged community members to seek additional resources from Religious Life and Counseling. We have encouraged students to join the initiative of the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s call to de-escalate violence in Israel and Gaza. And we have encouraged all members of our community to reach out to elected officials to call for a ceasefire.
I send this knowing that all of this will not be enough for some, and that the College’s lack of a bold public stance is and will continue to be a point of contention on campus and beyond.
Myself and members of my senior leadership team have engaged in dialogue with representatives from Students for Justice in Palestine, residents of the JCC house, and other organizations on campus. These conversations have not been easy, but they have been respectful.
We will not respond to ultimatums or provocation on social media or through other anonymous means, but we are committed to face-to-face conversations and deep listening across differences of opinion. This is not silence. Nor is it a bold public statement. It is a lived commitment to our community.