Harvard Faces Alumni Backlash: Over 1,600 Threaten To Withhold Donations In Protest Against Campus Antisemitism

Bhuvan Krishna

Nov 14, 2023, 05:36 PM | Updated 05:36 PM IST

Harvard University students facing backlash.
Harvard University students facing backlash.

In a significant move, more than 1,600 alumni of Harvard University, including high-profile figures like Bill Ackman and Leslie Wexner, have pledged to withhold donations until the institution takes urgent action against rising antisemitism on campus.

The Harvard College Jewish Alumni Association (HCJAA), formed in response to the university's handling of attacks on Israel, is leading this effort.

The HCJAA, the first Jewish alumni association in Harvard's history, is urging the university to officially recognise their association as a special interest group.

They are also calling for concrete plans to ensure the protection of Jewish students, along with the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.

Rebecca Claire Brooks, a co-founder of HCJAA, stated, "We now have a movement of over 1,600 alumni who are calling for meaningful reforms on campus to ensure that every student is safe."

The group represents a diverse range of alumni, including influential donors and those with more modest contributions.

Harvard President Claudine Gay responded to the tensions, stating, "Antisemitism has no place at Harvard," and outlined steps the university is taking, including examining how antisemitism manifests on campus, implementing education and training programs, and seeking external partnerships.

The potential impact of this alumni movement is significant, given that philanthropy constitutes 45 per cent of Harvard's revenue, with smaller donations playing an increasingly vital role. While large donations are often earmarked for specific purposes, smaller contributions provide universities with greater flexibility.

The HCJAA's pledge to withhold donations signals a grassroots movement expressing dissatisfaction with the university's response to antisemitism, emphasising that toxic campus cultures are detrimental to everyone.

Similar movements at other universities, like Cooper Union, indicate a growing trend of alumni demanding action against discrimination on campuses.

Bhuvan Krishna is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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