After the attack on Oct. 7, President John Fry — just a day after the conflict — sent out a school-wide email, addressing the tragic event and his stance on the situation. Starting off bold and strong, President Fry stated, “I join with all of you in mourning the loss of innocent life…” And so on the letter went, affirming once again his alliance with suffering Israeli people, even sending his condolences to those who were facing great losses at the Gaza border at the time.
President Fry’s letter on the surface seems to be a sympathetic one – one that addresses the loss of Drexel’s colleagues, one that lends a shoulder to suffering family members, and one that speaks of great empathy to all students on campus. Yet, ironically, many people find his letter to be a slap in the face, a stain on the names of struggling Palestinians, and a direct contradiction of his own words: “mourning the loss of innocent lives.”
Failing to mention the decades-long history of Palestine oppression prior to the conflict, President Fry has stirred anger among students, especially Muslims and Palestinians on campus. His letter, by only spreading sympathy to the State of Israel who has been constantly oppressing Palestine for the past 56 years, acted as the stimulus for students across campus to stand up and voice their own opinions.
Starting with @drexelsjp’s (Drexel Student for Justice Palestine) open letter to President Fry, more and more student organizations began to advocate for the innocent lives of Palestinians by directly criticizing President Fry’s statement as well as host protests across University City. Notably, Drexel’s Muslim Student Association has also taken their stance on the issue, directly vocalizing their support for Palestine. The Rush Building – home to Drexel’s Student Center for Diversity & Inclusion – also hosted an event showing solidarity for Palestine by hanging up their flags around the area, marking the organization’s firm opposition to the on-going genocide in Gaza.
Amidst the outrage in response to his letter, Fry went on to send out three more emails, emphasizing his concern for students and faculty. In the second statement (sent out Oct. 11), Fry provided students with mental health resources and mentioned vaguely of “a line between expressing strong opinions through robust discussion, debate, and peaceful protest — and targeting any individual for discrimination, intimidation, or hate.” Though the matter was not made clear in this email, it was directly mentioned in President Fry’s third email (sent out Oct. 14) where he referred to the hate crime performed against a Jewish student in Race Resident Hall. And it was not until his fourth and final email (sent out Oct. 20) that President Fry extended his “full sympathy and support to our Palestinian students, faculty, and professional staff, whose pain and trauma deepen by the hour as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens and casualties rise.”
President Fry’s response has undoubtedly caused more stir within students and faculties. Enraged by President Fry’s subtly biased statements, Drexel SJP went on to lead a student walkout in front of the Dragon Statue – Drexel’s famous mascot. Efforts to protest against universities’ support for Israel have also been heightened with national student walkouts hosted by Drexel and UPenn. Student organizations, playing the role of courageous advocates, have strongly and firmly stated their voice within the community, further spreading awareness to other peers on campus.
As for President Fry, it is difficult to say the same about him. From the very first statement, President Fry has infuriated many with his superficial and one-sided address regarding the conflict. It is careless, and extremely harmful, to mention the Oct.7 attack without referring to the five decades-long of constant torture and occupation of Palestinians.
With a historically-loose announcement, President Fry — intentionally or not — has opened the gate for many to wrongly perceive the situation, leading to conflicts intensified on both sides. The tense environment is portrayed so vividly on our own campus where Palestinians suffer the loss of representation, and at the same time, Jewish suffer the cause of hate crime invoked through peripheral historical understanding. Therefore, it is strongly and robustly the President’s job to be more cautious and careful with his own statements so that further cases of hate crime and student oppressions can be prevented.
At the end of the day, it should not take a fire alarm ringing dreadingly at 1 a.m. or countless student walkouts for President Fry to understand his responsibilities as acting President of Drexel University.
For more context of the war, one can visit informative resources such as videos made by Johnny Harris and Vox or educational material at PRISM. Listed below would be a few donations that helps support Palestinians in this time of great loss and hardships:
- American Friends Service Committee
- Build Palestine – a list of trusted donating organizations in support of Palestine
- International Rescue Committee
- US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
- Islamic Relief USA