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New analysis on university statements following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks on Israel and the retaliatory war that has since killed tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians found that multiple universities backtracked, apologized for and deleted original communications about the conflict.

Looking at formal statements from 100 universities collected as a part of Stanford University’s Berman Archive, researchers found that 49 percent of institutions released additional statements after blowback over their initial remarks. Of those, about half were released within a week of the first statements.

Some institutions, such as the University of Rochester, issued public apologies for their initial statements and deleted those remarks from their website. (While Rochester’s first statement denounced “violence, hatred, and prejudice,” it was criticized for not condemning Hamas as terrorists.)

The analysis, conducted by Gordon Maples of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Jenny Small of Brandeis University, found that only 37 percent of initial statements “provided information about the health and well-being of university community members in the region.” And most sidestepped “specific terms of anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim hate”—with only 13 percent referencing antisemitism and 10 percent touching on Islamophobia—“in connection with the Oct. 7 attacks or its subsequent violence.”

The researchers noted that the statement language was often vague; 57 percent referred to the Hamas attacks as “terrorism” and 52 percent mentioned “victims who were Palestinian citizens or innocent people living in Gaza.”

Only 25 percent of initial statements noted the impact on Jewish/Israeli students and 16 percent on Muslim/Palestinian students. Subsequent statements, however, were more likely to address the impact on Jewish/Israeli students (51 percent) and Muslim/Palestinian students (45 percent).

“This analysis highlights an alarming lack of understanding or concern for the impacts of Oct. 7 on university community members— students, faculty, and staff—within university leaders’ communications. Hopefully, reviewing these findings may help university leaders better prepare for crises in the future, as well as better address the on-campus ramifications of the ongoing tragedy between Israel and Hamas,” Maples wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed.

Small said the vague language downplayed the reality for those affected.

“My personal interpretation of this is that it felt like gaslighting: Students (and faculty and staff) experienced these events in a visceral and horrifying way that didn’t match the run-of-the-mill language being deployed by their schools,” Small wrote via email.