President Daniels shares message on campus protest

Pro-Palestinian protesters gather on the Beach at the university’s Homewoo
Pro-Palestinian protesters gather on the Beach at the university’s Homewood campus April 30
President Daniels shares message on pro-Palestinian protest on Homewood campus

His update on outreach to protesters reiterates the university’s commitment ’to maintaining a campus environment that values free speech, but also where everyone feels safe and welcome’

Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels sent a message to the Hopkins community this afternoon regarding a pro-Palestinian protest initiated at the Homewood campus April 29.

His complete message is below:

Dear Johns Hopkins Community, I am sharing with you the message I sent earlier today to the members of the Hopkins Justice Collective and student protesters who are encamped on our Homewood campus.

As I did earlier this week, I chose to speak directly to the protesters, who include members of our community and those unaffiliated with Hopkins, to share the reasons why we are calling for an immediate end to the encampment, which contravenes multiple university policies and codes.

As we head into the final weeks of the academic year and look forward to celebrating our newest graduates at Commencement later this month, we are committed to maintaining a campus environment that values free speech, but also where everyone feels safe and welcome.

Sincerely, Ron Daniels Dear Hopkins Justice Collective members and student protesters, I am writing at a critical juncture in the protest. I appreciated the opportunity to meet with several of you on Monday evening at the start of the encampment you initiated on the Beach and to speak together in an open and constructive way about the purposes of your protest, including your desire to conduct the protest and any programming in a way that would ensure no violence, injury, or anti-Semitic expression.

I am writing today to reiterate the reasons why the encampment is so problematic and why I am calling on you to end it.

First, we believe that the encampment creates conditions that are risky to the health and safety of you and others in the community. I recognize from our conversation that many of you do not intend to jeopardize campus safety. You indicated that you seek to use the encampment to increase attention to the plight of the Palestinian people and to persuade the university to accept your demands. But by walling off a significant portion of the Beach for a dense cluster of tents, you block visibility and increase the risk of violence and/or injury to you or others at the university. This risk is compounded by the broad calls you have made on social media and elsewhere for people not affiliated with the university to come to the Beach to lend support to your cause. Further, we are concerned with your call on social media for "tables, masks, chains, locks, sandbags, tents, pallets, goggles, gloves, tarps, sheets, zip ties, PVC piping, 2x4 nails, trash bags, hammers." Because of your insistence that everyone in the encampment always remain masked, the identity of these people, their motivations, and their respect for our diverse community and the spaces in which we learn and dwell cannot be known to you or to the people with the responsibility to protect you.

We believe that the risks to personal safety from these conditions are real and will only increase with time. Over the past two weeks, at encampments at other institutions, we have seen altercations between protesters and counter-protesters and accusations of hateful slurs that have spiraled out of anyone’s control. Here at Hopkins we have already received reports of concerning incidents, including physical assault and vile hate speech.

We know from our own experience at Hopkins that encampments and occupations have the clear potential for unintended and even violent consequences. This happened at Johns Hopkins in the 1980s, when a student dwelling in a semipermanent shelter to protest South African Apartheid suffered serious burns when another student set the structure on fire. And it happened again during the 2019 occupation of Garland Hall, when student protesters reported incidents of assault, including one in which a faculty member and others broke into Garland Hall and had a dangerous physical altercation with protesters.

The second reason for our concern with the encampment goes to its inconsistency with the core values of the university. You well know my commitment to ensuring the broadest possible protection for free speech and inquiry at the university. This commitment has been as important as ever since October 7. We know that there is a range of sincerely held and different views in our community on the nature of the war in Gaza and the multidecades conflict between Israel, the Palestinians, and neighboring states. Because this issue for many is connected to their core religious identity, the issue is even more freighted. Many in our community have family members who dwell in the region and have been killed or injured. Inevitably, the broad protection accorded speech on our campus has meant that some members of our community will find the claims and slogans made by participants in the debate offensive and hurtful. Nevertheless, absent speech that directly calls for violence or injury against protected class groups, we have neither punished nor condemned anyone’s speech.

We recognize that the encampment is useful in seizing our attention. It forces us to confront different frames or narratives on the conflict. But that is as far as it goes. By physically demarcating a space and by gathering, studying, and chanting with only those people who subscribe to a similar worldview on an incredibly complex subject, you fail to honor the university’s foundational imperative for conversation across difference, for conversation that aims to test, evaluate, and understand competing claims. An encampment of this nature cannot help but reduce the capacity of those within it to see the common humanity of those who are outside its perimeter. Instead of recognizing and drawing strength from our diversity, we veer to a community of rigid solitudes, a community defined by suspicion, distrust, and, in the extreme, hatred. Along the way, our common humanity is lost.

I acknowledge that it is hard work to stage sustained protest. But I believe the much harder work is to now move beyond the shouting, the slogans, the call and response, and to engage in a rigorous and open-minded way with the university community on the agenda for change that you propose. Along the way, you will need to marshal facts and evidence. You will need to meet the arguments and ideas of others who disagree-perhaps vehemently-with some of your claims. That is the hard work of the university and, indeed, of liberal democratic society. That takes courage, determination, and decency. You have seized attention but created a stand-off in which the next step-as we have seen at other universities-often has consequences that are dangerous and damaging for everyone involved.

I am urging you to change course. To move toward a solution born of good-faith dialogue and mutual respect so that the Beach is fully restored to its place as a destination for the use of all’our students. As I shared with your representatives in our long conversation on Monday night, I remain open to further meetings toward a peaceful resolution. In the meantime, we will take additional steps as necessary to protect the safety of the community, including moving forward with appropriate disciplinary and legal actions.

Sincerely,

Ron Daniels