Carnegie Mellon University
November 10, 2023

Holding Our Community to a Higher Standard

Dear Members of the CMU Community,

Over the past few weeks, rhetoric about the conflict in the Middle East has become increasingly toxic and harmful on our campus and on social media.

Our Jewish friends and colleagues have been subjected to hateful phrases and slurs. Demonstrators who gathered on our campus yesterday – many of them from outside our community – chanted the words "from the River to the Sea.” This phrase (referring to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea) is used by the terrorist group Hamas and others as a call for the elimination of Israel and the eradication of the Jewish people. In no uncertain terms, I condemn speech that advocates the eradication of any group of people.

Also deeply concerning, we have heard accounts of members of our Arab and Muslim community being called “terrorists,” “degenerates” and “animals.” Slurs dehumanize, divide and deeply hurt members of our community. Such rhetoric is antithetical to our values, fostering neither the intellectual rigor nor the inclusive environment we work tirelessly to cultivate.

As a community of thoughtful scholars and global citizens, we hold a deep commitment to the principles of freedom of expression. It is a cornerstone that supports our academic mission. On a diverse campus united by compassion for one another, this commitment also carries with it a profound responsibility to use speech that does not seek to invoke fear or espouse the marginalization of any one group.

While I rarely comment on language used in the pursuit of free expression, I need to call out the deep pain and fear that these words and phrases can cause. Even when language may be protected under our policy on free speech, it still has the power to create fear of antagonism and violence. Let me be clear, I condemn speech that advocates for the eradication of any group or dehumanizes others. I strongly urge all members of this community to refrain from using language that targets a particular group and causes hurt and fear in friends, classmates or colleagues.

Whatever one’s political leanings or views on this issue, we are all part of one CMU community, and we share the responsibility to show care and concern for one another. This is not about being politically correct nor about censoring speech — it is about not fueling fear or the potential for violence. Words have power. Let’s be respectful and intentional in how we express our views.

We will continue to have meaningful dialogue on this campus. It is through this lens of respect and responsibility that our University's commitment to free expression achieves its highest purpose.


Farnam Jahanian
Henry L. Hillman President’s Chair