William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe shared the following message with the campus community on March 29, 2024. – Ed.

The William & Mary Student Assembly uses deliberative and thoughtful processes to express the opinions of the student body. This week, the Student Assembly Senate engaged in two of those processes to express views on war and violence in the Middle East and university responses. On March 26, the Student Assembly Senate debated and passed a resolution. On March 28 (yesterday) a referendum question was supported by students as part of the spring election ballot. Both were conducted within the guidelines established by the Student Assembly.

As I shared in previous messages, William & Mary is strongly resolved to safeguard an environment where everyone can teach, learn, worship and speak openly – without fear for safety or risk of bias. We reaffirm with pride the ways the university has come together across our divides: weaving prayers from different faiths into our gatherings, convening scholarly panels and more.

I am especially appreciative that the Student Assembly resolution affirmed the call for “lasting peace.” Many of us pray for peace for Israelis and Palestinians and condemn the horrific violence that is shattering so many lives and communities. Moreover, at times of grief and fear, the threat of prejudice always rises; as I urged last fall, we must take special care to protect our community members from antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Specific to other requests in the resolution and referendum, we approach them with an understanding of the distinctive role of a university in our pluralistic democracy. Universities are most effective in advancing positive change via the three components of our core mission: teaching, learning and research.

  • We appreciate the students’ request for additional information to be posted on William & Mary’s website. The web page noted in the resolution is two years old; we agree it’s time to update. We’ll be transitioning that page to one that brings together information, resources, news, events and scholarly expertise on current international conflicts, including Ukraine and the Middle East.
  • As a teaching institution, it’s important to provide our campus community with ongoing opportunities to come together to discuss these issues and to learn from each other. That is one reason a consortium of faculty, working with Arts & Sciences and the Reves Center, is co-sponsoring a seven-part series on scholarly perspectives and diverse viewpoints on Gaza, Israel, Palestine and the wider Middle East. Civil discourse and respect are bedrocks to our community of learning. We encourage you to participate.
  • Decisions regarding the investments of most W&M-affiliated endowments (including those under the purview of the Board of Visitors) are made by the 1693 Partners Fund Board, a separate entity from the university. Detailed information on how W&M tuition dollars support academic and student services is available online.
  • As William & Mary’s Vision statement reads, people come here “wanting to understand and change the world – and together we do.” At a learning institution, we do this by holding open spaces for respectful disagreement: recognizing that we may not share the same experiences and perceptions, and committing to grow in understanding. Collective blame is antithetical to these goals. For those reasons, William & Mary will not pursue a boycott of Israel as proposed in the student referendum.

Ours is a caring community. An important way to express that care is to lean into the practices of constructive dialogue. Lead with questions, not the desire to win. Share personal stories. Listen thoughtfully. At heated moments, take it slow. In these ways, we make room for transformation.


– Katherine A. Rowe