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At the University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents meeting on November 16, 2023, President David Lassner addressed the issue of the conflict in Israel and Gaza involving the campuses. Below are his remarks. You can also watch the video above.

“A month ago I shared a message with the UH community regarding the situation in Israel and Gaza. I purposely chose to focus on the health and wellbeing of our community, not on the actual events unfolding in the Middle East. Since then, like university Presidents and Chancellors around the country, I have variously faced calls to condemn the actions of Hamas on October 7 or the Israeli response. You see this in testimony to the Board of Regents this morning.

I again choose not to do so. I am not a professional politician or an international political influencer. Rather, I lead a complicated educational institution with an array of internal and external stakeholders who seldom agree about much of anything. And in this context, my singular concern as President of the University of Hawaiʻi is the wellbeing of our community and the excellence of the educational opportunity we offer to elevate the lives of our students.

First and perhaps most importantly, I am proud that our campuses have not been roiled by the kinds of physical violence and injury taking place at many other great universities around the world. I have been in multiple conversations with colleagues over the past weeks and I believe this is a credit to our unique culture of aloha, which is often challenged but seldom broken. I urge all of our students, faculty and staff to maintain that commitment to use words, not physical force, to express positions or disagreements.

Many in our community have decades, centuries and millenia of familial, religious, cultural and political connection to the complex intertwined events and history of Israel and Gaza, Jews and Palestinians. So it is natural to be deeply affected both by the events taking place there, and the reactions of others here.

Given those deep connections, we have had multiple reports of situations in which students and others have felt unsafe as the direct result of the words and sometimes actions of others. This pains me and many others greatly. But lawful free speech is not always kind.

There are inherent challenges in protecting the free speech and academic freedom of some within our community, when their protected speech hurts others.

Simply stated, we need to care for our students and employees. Last week Mānoa Provost Bruno sent a campus-wide message sharing the resources and offices available to help with individual concerns. We can’t suppress the free speech or academic freedom of others. Nor will I try to shout anyone out with my own voice. But we can do our best to help our community feel supported and safe in a complex environment that includes others expressing opposing positions in ways that have hurtful impacts.

We also need to fulfill our educational mission to prepare our students to thrive in a world that may be much less respectful than our campuses. I hope to find ways, as requested by a student who reached out to me just yesterday, to create opportunities for respectful dialog between and among those with opposing views. Universities are places that are proud to host divergent views. If we can successfully model respectful discourse about the many dimensions of this incredibly challenging topic, and I say IF, we can help our students learn ways of living outside their own bubbles—be they political, cultural or religious. We can help prepare ourselves for the next controversy—there will be more. And while respectful dialog might not change the minds of those with hardened positions, we can demonstrate approaches to discourse and even advocacy that are kinder, more respectful, more strategic and perhaps even more effective.

We all want peace in the Middle East, even if there is little agreement on how to get there. But for us, this is a time when we all need to think of those around us who have different backgrounds, perspectives and views. We need to keep hate and intolerance from our campuses and our classrooms. We need to listen to one another and show compassion for others. We need aloha.”


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