The Leadership Conference Statement on Recent Campus Protests

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WASHINGTONMaya Wiley, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released the following statement in response to campus protests across the country:

“The civil rights movement is, and has always been, a democracy movement. As the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights coalition, we have long moved together, beginning as a coalition of Black, labor, and Jewish leaders and expanding to one that includes organizations representing multiple racial, ethnic, and religious groups and organizations committed to women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, disability rights, good government, education equity, and more. We are built on the principle that our future is tied together and advanced through a true, plural democracy. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘We are bound together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.’ We continue to work in coalition to sew together the garment of laws and their enforcement that ensure a mutually healthy, cohesive, and democratic future for everyone.

“Today that future, our democracy, and our single garment of destiny is deeply threatened, but it is not threatened irreparably if we act in concert to protect it by supporting civil rights and the principles undergirding them both.  We must unequivocally reject hate, bigotry, and discrimination and to embrace support for the opportunity of students to learn safely — even while expressing their identities and viewpoints — consistent with civil rights laws and protections, which include free speech and assembly. Sometimes these principles can be in tension with one another, and balancing them has been a challenge on many college and university campuses. Civil rights principles are the guides and guardrails to find this balance.

“We have, as a movement, always acted through nonviolent direct action to lift up causes of injustice, to advance civil rights and dialogue, and to confront the need for difficult discussions about problems and their solutions. Colleges and universities are places of learning across differences, and that can create tension around direct action. Administrators have an obligation to protect the rights of all community members. Even as they protect the right of students, faculty, and staff to be free from hate and violence, they also have a fundamental obligation to protect nonviolent protest and those participating. 

“As noted in our Cause for Concern 2024: The State of Hate (Updated May 2024), we were already witnessing historic rises in hate and bias against a number of groups. Since October 7, 2023, we have seen and heard disturbing accounts of Arab American, Jewish, and Muslim communities experiencing incidents of hate and bias. From an Arab Muslim student being targeted in a hit and run, to violent death threats and threats of sexual assault directed at Jewish students, we have witnessed the distressing increase in hate including — but not exclusively — on college and university campuses. No one should be singled out and targeted because of their race, ethnicity, religion, shared ancestry, or any other immutable characteristic. All students, including Jewish and Arab American students, should feel safe on campus. 

“We are deeply concerned that some college and university administrators are calling police to campuses in response to nonviolent protests or utilizing police inappropriately — escalating tensions and conflict and placing students in harm’s way. While most protests have been nonviolent, we recognize that there have been instances of behavior that have been hateful, biased, or intimidating against students who are or are perceived to be Arab, Black, Jewish, and/or Muslim. There have also been incidents of police use of excessive force and civil rights violations of students. We are witnessing very disturbing video footage and hearing allegations of police use of excessive force on college campuses. When police are called to remove student protesters, there is a higher likelihood of escalation of conflict and police misconduct.  

“We call on college and university administrators to protect the First Amendment right of student protesters to peacefully protest and to exercise their right to petition their institutions for change. We call on administrators to engage in good faith negotiations, de-escalation strategies, and clear policies and strategies that prevent overreaction and inappropriate calls for police presence on campuses. We call on Congress and the White House to increase resources and support for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and significantly increase resources for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. 

“Democracy requires our protection always and more so in hard times. We are united for our democracy and the protections it affords all of us to express our beliefs and to live free of hate and violence. We believe our colleges and universities must do the same.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 240 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit