Harvard University President Claudine Gay is apologizing after a controversial response during a House hearing on antisemitism.
“I am sorry,” Gay said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson, adding, “Words matter.”
She stressed, “When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret.”
On Tuesday, Gay attended a House hearing on antisemitism on college campuses.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) grilled the university president. She started by asking Gay, “Harvard student calling for the mass murder of African-Americans is not protected free speech at Harvard, correct?”
The New York congressman then noted, “The use of the term intifada in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict is indeed a call for violent armed resistance against the state of Israel, including violence against, civilians and the genocide of Jews.”
Gay said she found such “hateful speech” to be “personally abhorrent to me.”
However, when asked if it violated the university’s code of conduct, Gay said it was “at odds with the values of Harvard” but did not say it violated the code of conduct.
“We embrace a commitment to free expression, even of that are objectionable, offensive, hateful. It’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying,” she added.
Stefanik fired back, “Does that speech not cross that barrier? Does that speech not call for the genocide of Jews and the elimination of Israel? When you testify that you understand that is the definition of intifada, is that speech according to the code of conduct or not?”
“We embrace a commitment to free expression and give a wide berth to free expression, even of views that are objectionable,” Gay said.
Gay later released a statement on Harvard’s X, formerly Twitter, feed that stated, “There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students.”
“Let me be clear: Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account,” she added.
Speaking to the Crimson, Gay sought to explain her response during the hearing.
“I got caught up in what had become at that point, an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedure.”
“What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community — threats to our Jewish students — have no place at Harvard, and will never go unchallenged,” she continued. “Substantively, I failed to convey what is my truth.”