Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Talks Justice, Civic Engagement at Radcliffe Day


Church Says It Did Not Authorize ‘People’s Commencement’ Protest After Harvard Graduation Walkout


‘Welcome to the Battlefield’: Maria Ressa Talks Tech, Fascism in Harvard Commencement Address


In Photos: Harvard’s 373rd Commencement Exercises


Rabbi Zarchi Confronted Maria Ressa, Walked Off Stage Over Her Harvard Commencement Speech

Op Eds

From the Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab Bias Task Force: Many at Harvard Feel Ignored

By Ellen P. Cassidy
By Ali S. Asani, Wafaie W. Fawzi, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja
Ali S. Asani, Wafaie W. Fawzi, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja are co-chairs of the Presidential Task Force on Combating Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab Bias.

Early this year, interim President Alan M. Garber ’76 announced the formation of the Presidential Task Force on Combating Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab Bias, which was charged with understanding how hate and bias have impacted life on campus for Muslim and Arab members of the Harvard community.

We are the co-chairs of that task force, and we write to share what we’ve found from our work so far — and where we’ll go from here.

We began meeting in February and launched a series of listening sessions in April — to date we have had 45 sessions with more than 400 students, faculty, and staff across Cambridge and Longwood. We also met with several affinity groups to ensure that a wide range of vital perspectives were heard.

Our goal was to learn more about what Harvard community members have experienced and form recommendations for what the University can do about it. We learned early on that though the name and charge of our Task Force refer to Muslim and Arabs, we had to focus particularly on Palestinian members of our community and those with diverse backgrounds who identify as pro-Palestinian, both of which groups have experienced a great deal of trauma and pain.

What we heard was heart-breaking. Palestinian community members spoke of the tragic loss of many family members and loved ones in Gaza. Muslims, Palestinians, Arab Christians, and other individuals of Arab descent reported compounding feelings of uncertainty, abandonment, threat, mistrust, and fear.

We heard of incidents of bias, including of Muslim women in hijab and pro-Palestinian students wearing keffiyehs being verbally harassed and called “terrorists” by other Harvard affiliates. People of color from other groups and identities — often Black and South Asian students – shared experiences of racism and hatred because they were allies, or because they were misidentified as Arab, Muslim, or Palestinian.

This pain and anxiety, we found, extends to the administration’s actions too.

Students reported getting doxxed by outsiders and insiders alike with little administrative response. Palestinians spoke about feeling their identity ignored and erased by campus-wide messages that did not acknowledge them. Many felt that University responses to campus protests amounted to a “Palestine exception” to free speech. Others raised concerns that policies have been applied unevenly to Muslims, Arabs, and pro-Palestinian students versus other groups.

Many students and faculty, including Jewish allies, said they continue to fear negative consequences when speaking out publicly on issues they care about such as human rights and Harvard’s engagements and investments in the Middle East. The threat of harassment, physical violence, or professional consequences force these members of the Harvard community to choose between free expression and personal well-being.

Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias at American universities are not new developments. They became particularly significant after 9/11 and its lasting effects on U.S. foreign policy and domestic politics. Students also noted that Harvard lacked faculty and course offerings dedicated to Palestinian studies and the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict — a reality that perpetuates a lack of understanding on campus about the crisis happening in Gaza today.

To complement these findings from the listening sessions, we have recently launched a Harvard-wide survey in collaboration with the Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism. We encourage all students, staff, and faculty to take it.

Although many community members are feeling harm, disappointment and isolation, there is also a deep desire for positive change. Despite all they have experienced, members of our various communities came forward with suggestions for creating a better Harvard — one that pays attention to the voices and views of all students, faculty, and staff.

As challenging as the situation is, we remain committed to starting the healing process and fostering a more inclusive Harvard. The Presidential Task Force on Combating Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab Bias will continue to engage with its communities and hopes to deliver preliminary recommendations to the President shortly and further recommendations and a public report in the fall.

We are also coordinating with our counterparts on the Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism to share what we have heard, look for similar trends, and demonstrate our shared commitment to create bridges of understanding between our work. While we will work together to identify opportunities to increase dialogue across differences, we will also recognize the diversity of lived experiences that exists between groups at Harvard.

Too many students have felt invisible at Harvard in recent months. Our task force is committed to making visible and improving the experiences of Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians, and pro-Palestinian allies within our community.

Ali S. Asani is the Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures. Wafaie W. Fawzi is the Richard Saltonstall Professor of Population Sciences and Professor of Nutrition, Epidemiology, and Global Health. Asim Ijaz Khwaja is Professor of International Finance and Development at the Harvard Kennedy School. They are co-chairs of the Presidential Task Force on Combating Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab Bias.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Op Eds

Related Articles

Office of Career Services