Upholding Our Values

October 18, 2023

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,

Many of our students, faculty, staff, and colleagues are suffering great distress over the terror attacks on Israel and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Let me first say that there are no words to describe the fear and anxiety people experience when lives are at risk. To those who are struggling, you are never far from my thoughts, and Columbia will do everything possible to support you.

As we grapple with these challenging circumstances, it is important to clarify and reaffirm several guiding principles for how Columbia can stay true to its mission while upholding important values in our interactions with one another.

During any crisis in the world, our priority is providing immediate support to Columbia community members whose lives have been directly affected. Our day-to-day duty of care for the security and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff is paramount. Some students may need special accommodations as they cope with fear and grief, and those arrangements can be made through advisors or deans of students.

We know that the atmosphere on campus is extremely charged, and some of you have expressed concern about your personal security. Let me reassure you that the University will take all available steps to help you. We have increased public safety presence across all of our campuses. We are also working with outside security firms for additional support and are in regular contact with the New York City Police Department. We have added resources to our existing hotline and escort service and I encourage anyone who is concerned about their safety to use it.

Debate, advocacy, and protest are essential ways for students to address and process political and social turmoil, and we are duty-bound to ensure they can gather and express themselves. We will continue to observe all necessary safeguards around these activities and will work closely with students to ensure that they adhere to our event guidelines.

Unfortunately, some are using this moment to spread antisemitism, Islamophobia, bigotry against Palestinians and Israelis, and various other forms of hate. I have been disheartened that some of this abhorrent rhetoric is coming from members of our community, including members of our faculty and staff. Especially at a time of pain and anger, we must avoid language that vilifies, threatens, or stereotypes entire groups of people. It is antithetical to Columbia’s values and can lead to acts of harassment or violence. When this type of speech is unlawful or violates University rules, it will not be tolerated.

Some students, including at Columbia, have been victims of doxing. This form of online harassment, involving the public posting of names and personal information, has been used by extremists to target communities and individuals. This kind of behavior also will not be tolerated and should be reported through appropriate school channels. When applicable, we will refer these cases to external authorities.

Universities play a vital role in society by fostering critical thinking, scholarship, and, ideally, opening minds to different points of view. But for universities to be effective, we must use our voices differently than other institutions. Unlike a political organization or advocacy group, Columbia’s role is to create space for our scholars and students to fill with their own moral and intellectual conversations, an essential function in a world in which that space is narrowing.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have values. A shared commitment to civility, respect, and empathy must guide how we interact with one another. It is not what we believe, but how we treat people who don’t share our views, that shapes the character of our community and ultimately educates and empowers new generations of engaged citizens. Our focus must be de-escalating tensions, modeling respectful behavior, and finding common ground in our shared humanity.

On a personal note, I want to thank all those who have shown great compassion, leadership, and kindness in recent days. Whether this has been providing spiritual or emotional care for students, supporting friends and colleagues in distress, taking part in thoughtful classroom discussions or seminars—you are exemplars of the best of Columbia.


Minouche Shafik
President, Columbia University in the City of New York