Dear Members of the City College Community,
This past week, our Division of Student Affairs reposted a message from the CCNY Student Government, condemning the State of Israel for its actions in the war with Hamas. That a college entity amplified this message conveyed the impression that CCNY had adopted the Student Government position. We have not, and I directed the Division of Student Affairs post to be taken down to avoid furthering that impression. At the same time, and without endorsing its opinion, the college will not—indeed is constitutionally prohibited from—censoring the speech of our student government or anyone on our campus.
There is sadness, anger, and confusion from every side of this ongoing conflict. Jewish students wonder if the number of CCNY students taking positions critical of Israel makes the campus less safe for them. Students with sympathies for the suffering in Gaza wonder if removing the Division of Student Affairs post implies that the college is indifferent to the predicament of Palestinians.
I believe my mandate—and what must be the focus of college effort in this matter—is clear. It is not to assert the interests of one side over another or to endorse the views of those who have done so. It is, rather, to recognize that the very diversity that we so proudly advertise as a strength on this campus will inevitably produce disagreements and sometimes discord between sections of our community—and the 2021 conflict poses particular and wrenching problems in this regard.
But precisely because we are proud of our diversity, we must work to reconcile the tensions it may sometimes engender. A college campus is precisely the place for people on different sides of an issue to reach a deeper and more nuanced understanding of one another so that despite these differences, we might build a community capable of envisioning pathways out of conflict.
Over the past year, the college has enlisted the services of the Sustained Dialogue Institute to teach members of our community the skills of “sustained dialogue,” a methodology developed during the Camp David Accord negotiations to help divided communities more deeply understand one another as a road to alleviating persistent conflict. With the help of members of our community who have received this training, we will initiate a sustained dialogue addressing this conflict on campus. I will have more information about this as the plans solidify.
For now, however, one thing must be clear. Our diversity means very little if we cannot figure out ways to understand one another, and to provide a climate on campus where people feel that they are safe and welcome and that they can express themselves—something that applies with equal force to everyone on campus. We cannot police expression, nor would we ever wish to. There are revered and well-placed constitutional provisions against doing so. But we will unequivocally ensure the safety of every member of our community and endeavor, despite the challenges, to build here a more nuanced understanding of complicated issues as our contribution to creating the peace and justice our world so badly needs.