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Video transcript: How we treat each other

MIT President Sally Kornbluth

View the video.

When I last spoke with you about the awful tragedy unfolding between Israel and the Palestinians, I expressed the fear that the rhetoric on our own campus might escalate to the point of personal attacks or harassment. 

I had not planned to communicate again to the entire community on this horrible situation. But sadly, I now feel I must, because of some things that have happened on campus this week that have intensely affected members of our community. 

I have communicated my staunch support for free speech repeatedly in the past, and I stand by those principles. We defend that right as the best path to knowledge and learning; a university cannot function without it. 

But I have also been abundantly clear that individual targeting, harassment, or calls to violence are unacceptable.  And some of what has been said and done on our campus alarms me. Indeed, some individuals in our community – Jews, Muslims and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians – have let us know that they feel fearful and concerned for their physical safety.

I won’t repeat the ugly words and actions community members have shared with me — dehumanizing name-calling and overt shunning of Muslim and Arab students in the dorms and laboratories; mass chanting of phrases that harken back to past antisemitic horrors or violent attacks on Israelis – as it would be adding fuel to the fire. But make no mistake: We cannot let MIT become a place where we treat each other this way.

We are working to ensure the safety of our community in practical ways, through coordination and added patrols. 

Yet the truth is that we can all help make the campus safer: In this overheated atmosphere, as you exercise your right to free expression, please think carefully about the impact of your words on those around you – your peers, your professors, your students, your colleagues, the staff members you interact with, your neighbors in this community. 

They are members of the MIT community – just like you. And just like you, they ought to be able to live and work here without fear. 

The deep tear in the fabric of the Middle East must not become a tear in the social fabric at MIT. So please – think twice before you choose to turn up the rhetoric, no matter how passionate your viewpoint! Please take some care with your fellow community members – even if you hold views that strongly differ from theirs. 

I call again for you to consider not only what you can say, but – given the real concerns for safety so many are feeling – what you should say. And know that your right to speech – which I strongly support – comes with profound responsibility. 

I have every confidence that, in keeping with our MIT values, we can express ourselves clearly – and also treat each other with decency, compassion and respect. 

And that confidence is reinforced by the fact that – formally and informally – members of our community are reaching out across dividing lines and creating opportunities to talk with and actively listen to each other. 

I’m proud to see these nascent dialogues and collaborations – and I hope to see more of them. This is an opportunity open to every one of us – so let’s choose that path to greater understanding.

This is MIT.  And we’ll get through this together.