Campus & Community

University names task force members in efforts to combat antisemitism, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias

Aerial view of Harvard campus and Charles River from Dunster House.

Photo by Dylan Goodman

6 min read

‘We must do much more to bridge the fissures that have weakened our sense of community’

The members of the Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism and Presidential Task Force on Combating Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab Bias were announced Sunday by interim President Alan M. Garber. Consisting of faculty and students from across Schools, disciplines, and backgrounds, the task forces will start their work immediately.

“We must do much more to bridge the fissures that have weakened our sense of community, and the task forces, which have the full support of the University, will be critical to our success,” Garber said in a message to the Harvard community. The members of the task forces, Garber continued “are taking on difficult work under extraordinary pressure and public scrutiny. They are true University citizens, dedicated to strengthening our community now and in the future.”

Task force members will work in the coming months to identify causes and factors of behaviors that contribute to antisemitism and anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias at Harvard. They will also collect data and evaluate evidence related to the frequency and tenor of these behaviors, and make recommendations on how to combat their impact on campus.

“Our work should be informed by the best evidence about the nature and severity of the problems we confront and about the impact of approaches that have been put to the test,” Garber said.

The task forces will begin with initial phases of research and outreach, according to Garber’s message. This will include listening sessions to more fully understand the perspectives and experiences of those most affected by the events and aftermath of the Hamas terror attack against Israel on Oct. 7.

“I have asked the co-chairs to send recommendations to the deans and me on a rolling basis so that we might consider, refine, and implement interventions, and to keep the community apprised as our work together proceeds,” Garber said.

Ongoing guidance from the co-chairs and members of the task forces will help inform actionable areas of improvement and the work will culminate with recommendations for the president. The range of recommendations may include elements relating to student life, wellbeing and community support and resources, School and University policies, education, and training, as well as other areas related to the climate on campus.

The task forces are among several efforts recently announced by Garber aimed at strengthening the campus community. In addition to moving to increase support and resources for safety and wellbeing, Garber and the deans of all Harvard Schools wrote to the community about the University’s commitment to freedom of speech, including the right to protest and dissent under guidelines that prevent interference with the “normal duties and activities” of members of the University.  Their message emphasized that “these principles together enable the University to fulfill our central mission of ‘learning, teaching, research and scholarship.’” In addition, Harvard students, faculty, and staff engaged in a series of Harvard Dialogues at the start of the spring semester, designed to bring renewed emphasis to respectful discourse, debate, and education.

Each task force will be led by faculty co-chairs. The Presidential Task Force on Combating Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab Bias will be led by Ali Asani, Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures; Asim Ijaz Khwaja, Sumitomo-FASID Professor of International Finance and Development at Harvard Kennedy School; and Wafaie Fawzi, Richard Saltonstall Professor of Population Sciences and a professor of nutrition, epidemiology, and global health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Jared Ellias, Scott C. Collins Professor of Law, will take over as co-chair of the Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism for Raffaella Sadun, Charles E. Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, who will conclude her service. Ellias will join Derek Penslar, William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, who was previously announced as co-chair.

“Professor Sadun has expressed her desire to refocus her efforts on her research, teaching, and administrative responsibilities at HBS,” Garber said. “I am extremely appreciative of Professor Sadun’s participation in the task force over the past weeks. Her insights and passion for this work have helped shape the mandate for the task force and how it can best productively advance the important work ahead. She has advanced our efforts to be a stronger, more inclusive Harvard and for that we owe her our deep thanks.”

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to help advance the vital work to combat antisemitism and believe that President Garber has assembled an excellent task force,” Sadun said. “I will continue to support efforts to tackle antisemitism at Harvard in any way I can from my faculty position.”

While the task forces will have wide areas of focus, they are not responsible for addressing crimes, bias incidents, or bullying or harassment concerns, or for enforcing University or School policies, including those related to protests. The University and Schools have responsibility for policy enforcement and discipline. Public safety, including response to immediate threats to individual safety, is the responsibility of the Harvard University Police Department. More information on resources and support regarding policies, wellbeing, and safety is provided on the University’s Resources in Times of Crisis website.

The task forces will work in close collaboration to coordinate efforts and methodologies, although each group will have the flexibility to pursue additional sources of information and consider interventions independent of the other.

“We are accustomed to asking the most difficult questions and taking on the most complex problems,” Garber said. “Those inclinations do more than spur our individual and collective efforts — they connect us to one another in fundamental ways. Despite our differences, what we share is far greater than what we do not. I know that we care enough about each other and our University to join together in ensuring that Harvard offers an environment in which Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Palestinian, and Arab students feel welcome and can thrive. We should expect nothing less.”

Both task forces may begin producing interim recommendations for improvements as soon as the listening period is completed. Updates on progress, ways to provide feedback or comments, and additional information will be available at websites for the Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism and the Presidential Task Force on Combating Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab Bias.