Letter to Craig N. Sellers, Head of Friends' Central School
February 13, 2017

Dear Craig N. Sellers, Head of School,

We were profoundly disappointed by the Friends’ Central administration’s decision to cancel the scheduled February 3 talk by Sa’ed Atshan, assistant professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Swarthmore College. And we were appalled to learn today that the administration has placed on administrative leave the two teachers who invited him, Layla Helwa and Ariel Eure, barring them from campus and deactivating their email accounts. The teachers invited Professor Atshan, a widely admired Quaker scholar and activist committed to dialogue and coexistence in Israel-Palestine, at the request of the student Peace and Equality in Palestine Club. His talk was to be a deeply personal, uplifting presentation designed for a high school audience.

The principles of Quaker education teach that the highest form of critical thinking fosters “intellectual courage,” as Friends’ Central’s mission statement puts it: the readiness to stand up for a more just world, even in the face of popular opinion. Professor Atshan's superb scholarship and teaching on nonviolent social movements in the Middle East exemplify these principles. In contrast, the administration's decision to withdraw Professor Atshan’s invitation and shut down the teachers who invited him is a sad betrayal of them.

The values of Quakerism--that all people should be free, equal, and safe from violence--are all the more urgent today, as they are increasingly threatened by a presidential administration hostile toward immigrants, people of color, women, Muslims, Native Americans, Jews, LGBTQ people, and the poor. Palestinians and those who advocate for the rights of Palestinians are under attack as vicious right-wing organizations seek to intimidate students and teachers who are critical of Israel for its illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories. As a Quaker school with longstanding commitments to inclusivity, Friends’ Central School should be a bulwark against efforts to bully and silence voices for peace and justice. It should not be a tool of them. We, the undersigned, call upon the administration to restore Professor Atshan’s invitation to speak, to reinstate Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa, and to apologize to all three.


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