I have been wanting to write a message about the issue of free speech on campus for quite some time now.  Given the events of the past few weeks - the war between Israel and Hamas, the atrocities enacted by Hamas on the Israeli people, the plight of the Palestinian refugees and the unrest on college campuses around the country - this seems like the right time. As I sit at my computer to explore this issue, the words don’t come easily, but here goes. 

My first real job as a faculty member was in 1980 when I was hired to fill in for someone on sabbatical. She never came back so I stayed at that university for 10 years. I think I was drawn to academia because I loved to be exposed to new ideas. I love to learn because the central mission of higher education is to discover and transmit knowledge. In what other job are you paid to sit with really smart colleagues to explore difficult topics and challenging ideas, listening to different perspectives and creating approaches that you test out through a defined approach? I learned most from the people who had a different perspective than I. I always felt that I was made for the career I had chosen and felt lucky to be part of such an esteemed institution as academia. 

As I reflect on the barbaric acts of Hamas on the Jewish people and see the demonstrations on college campuses, I began to question whether free expression should be a right for all. Is it right for people to celebrate the evil that was perpetrated on October 7? Is it right for people to provide misinformation about the events that were occurring? And then I remember what I believe and I love about our academic environments: more than anywhere else, academia is where we are allowed to challenge ideas and beliefs so that we come to a deeper and more thoughtful understanding of issues and concerns. Here is where misinformation is addressed and corrected through a search for truth, and where people develop the moral courage (and we all need that today) to stand up for what is right and just. I recently read a message from a college president who said that our free speech right allows us to substitute bad ideas with better ideas and bad speech with more speech. Free speech gives us the right to stand up against hateful speech and messages of discrimination. It is not intimidation, aggression, or violence against others. In response to the invasion of Israel by Hamas, I crafted a letter for the IHP community which I hope conveyed the message of support for those in our community who have been affected by this war. It was purposefully not a political message because we have Israeli, Jewish, and Palestinian members of our community who all need to feel supported and included at this difficult time. I have heard from several of our students who feel isolated, alone, and at times fearful. Our students, faculty, and staff need to feel safe for learning to take place and for us to execute the core mission of higher education, which is to create and transmit knowledge. We continue to expect the IHP to be the place where we can have these difficult conversations and then leave the room as colleagues and friends.  

But in some ways, we are held to a higher standard than others because we are healthcare professionals in the privileged position of entering people’s lives at their most vulnerable time. As David Brown and Marcela del Carmen, presidents of the MGH and MGPO, respectively, stated in their message, we, as compassionate caregivers, “take care of people from all over the world.” We know how to make people feel safe and welcome, regardless of who they are and what they believe.   

I believe it’s important to remember who we are at this time of crisis:  a community of scholars whose purpose is to educate the next generation of healthcare leaders who will change our communities, our country, and our world for the better. This unites us in a common goal far more than our individual opinions divide us. As we hold on to that goal, I know our open and free speech will continue to advance our community. 

With hopes for peace,