Message to the Brooklyn Law School Community on Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Other Forms of Hate
To the Brooklyn Law School Community:
I write to address the shocking rise of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate across our country and the mounting threat it poses to our own community. And I write to ask for your partnership in renouncing all forms of hatred and in preserving the defining qualities that have always made our community special.
The six weeks since October 7 have been extraordinarily difficult. The horror of Hamas’ surprise terrorist attack on Israel, and the humanitarian suffering that has followed in the military response in Gaza, have traumatized many members of our community, including some who are grieving the loss of family members and loved ones in both Israel and Gaza.
In recent weeks, that trauma has been compounded by an unprecedented surge of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred closer to home. That surge has taken multiple forms, from sickening acts of violence against Jews and Muslims in the United States, to rhetoric celebrating Hamas’ slaughter and abduction of civilians, to the casual embrace of slogans calling for the annihilation of Israel or of the Palestinian people. Social media has been saturated with incendiary images and commentary dehumanizing the victims of violence and reducing the moral complexities of one of humanity’s longest and most intractable conflicts to caricatures and memes, often trading on vile tropes and hatreds.
I wrote to our community previously, on October 9 and again on October 23, and called for us to unite in rejecting and denouncing antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred. I hoped then that we would keep these forces from poisoning our own campus community.
Regrettably, in recent days we have had an incident that raises serious concern and I have heard from a multitude of students that they feel unsafe in our own community. On Tuesday evening, a student reported finding graffiti including the Star of David and a symbol associated with Palestine on a white board in a library study room reserved for student members of the Jewish Law Students Association. Whatever the precise intended meaning of the display, it was understandably deeply distressing for Jewish students to find it in a room designated as a safe retreat for mutual support in a time of great vulnerability. The sense of invasion has fanned feelings of insecurity and being a target of hostility that many had expressed before the incident, including both Jewish and Muslim students.
Let me be clear: antisemitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of hatred have no place at Brooklyn Law School and hateful acts directed at members of our community will not be tolerated. While our policies rightly offer robust protection for speech and expression, that protection also requires “respect for the dignity of others” and the rights of other members of our community to be free from discrimination and all forms of harassment based on religion, ethnicity, or national origin, among other protected categories.
The Law School’s department of public safety is conducting an investigation of the incident involving the library study room in an effort to determine the circumstances and identity of the persons involved. If a violation of our policies is found, it will be enforced with due regard for the gravity of the harm inflicted on our community. If you have information that might be relevant to this investigation or any other, please contact Jonathan Santiago, Director of Campus Safety at Jonathan.firstname.lastname@example.org. Without regard for the outcome of the investigation, we are assessing and expanding our security protocols to protect against similar incidents in the future.
While we stand ready to enforce strictly the Law School’s rules of conduct and non-discrimination to address any acts of hate within our BLS home, it is important to emphasize that our community’s strength ultimately depends on much more than formal rules and enforcement. Our strength depends on shared norms of mutual respect and reasoned debate that exceed bare compliance with written rules of conduct. Preserving those norms requires the collective will of every member of our community to embrace the values that have always made Brooklyn Law School special and to ensure that they are not lost.
From its founding in 1901, this School has been passionately committed to opening the doors of the legal profession to talented individuals of every background and to fostering their success through a community that rose above the divisions and prejudices that wracked the larger society beyond. Our first classes included not only students of every religious faith, race, and origin, but also students who worked to promote genuine community. As a first-year law student, Meyer Boskey, of the BLS class of 1907, founded one of the country’s first fraternities to welcome students of all religious faiths and identities. That inclusive approach has held us together and enabled us to persevere through a succession of daunting social upheavals and global crises over the past 122 years, including world wars, depressions, and more than one pandemic, and it falls to us to overcome the present difficulties and preserve that legacy in our own time.
The pressures of the current crisis in the Middle East and its fallout here at home are intense and, for many, feel existential. Even in that context – indeed, especially in that context – it is vital that we be cognizant of the significant harm that can be inflicted on fellow members of our community through careless or malicious rhetoric and to assiduously avoid associating ourselves with those who trade on hatred to stoke conflict and inflame division. Especially in a law school, there is an obligation on each of us to model the best of what lawyers bring to society in addressing complex problems – attention to the evidence, due regard for nuance, civility, and respect. Additionally, preserving our community and keeping it a safe learning environment for our common good requires not merely abstaining from hateful or insensitive conduct, but affirmatively extending grace and support to classmates and colleagues who may be deeply suffering.
We will continue to work to ensure that acts of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred gain no foothold on our campus. In addition to our enhanced security measures, we are launching a new online portal to facilitate the anonymous reporting of campus safety concerns, including any concerns relating to antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred. Our portal is in the final stages of beta testing and should be ready for launch early next week.
I am committed to continuing to partner with students, faculty, and staff to take affirmative steps to support and care for one another when so many are feeling bereft and vulnerable. For the next two weeks, we will be hosting once again the Community Breakfasts that we initiated in the days immediately following October 7. On Monday and Tuesday of next week, and Monday through Thursday of the week leading to the final day of classes, I hope you will drop by the Student Lounge for coffee, tea, and light morning refreshments and to take a moment to spend time with classmates and colleagues in appreciation for all we share together.
President, Joseph Crea Dean, and Professor of Law