(NEW YORK)– With campus controversies and protests occurring amid the ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza, PEN America issued the following comments:

“It is the duty of higher education to foster an environment where open discourse and disagreement across the ideological spectrum can occur. Universities have always been hotbeds of protest and vociferous debate on sensitive issues. The events of the last several days in Israel and in Gaza are testing higher education’s ability to create space for a diverse array of opinions amid rising tensions. However, fostering a culture of robust, respectful discourse on campuses is one of the main tenets of higher education, and this should happen proactively and consistently – not only in the midst of crises.” 

In this context, PEN America offers the following guidance drawing on our years of focus on campus free speech:

  • Protecting spaces on campus so that students of all viewpoints have the opportunity to gather, associate and express themselves freely
  • Upholding rights to protest and petition, while discouraging methods that seek to impair the speech rights of others 
  • Encouraging faculty to redouble their efforts to create classroom environments that facilitate open and respectful exchange
  • Respecting faculty extramural speech and resisting pressures to engage in disciplinary actions except in instances where the speech calls into question whether a faculty member can adequately execute their duties
  • Clearly distinguishing between offensive speech and acts of violence;
  • Ensuring the physical safety of the campus environment;
  • Condemning the vilification of individuals or groups on the basis of race, religion, or nationality
  • Enforcing harassment policies and ensuring that the campus community understands how harassment is defined and handled
  • Providing appropriate support, including digital safety measures and mental health resources, to students in need

Students, faculty, and staff can refer to PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Guide and Online Harassment Field Manual for further reading, resources, and practical advice.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057