Boston Mayor Michelle Wu backed embattled Harvard University President Claudine Gay's continued leadership of the institution in an interview with GBH News Tuesday.
On GBH's Boston Public Radio, cohost Jim Braude asked Wu if she agrees with the Harvard Corporation's recent statement of support for Gay, who has been under fire for remarks she made involving Harvard's approach to antisemitism during a combative Congressional hearing last week.
"I support the statements and the actions of the board in very carefully deliberating and ... recognizing that every characterization in a public role makes a difference," said Wu, who attended both Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
"Actions speak louder than words," she said. "Words, of course, matter as well. But we need to make sure that all of us are taking action to ensure the safety of all of our community members, [and] to very loudly and unapologetically condemn the hatred and violence that has taken place and that may threaten and intimidate our community members locally.
"I also have a sense of what it's like to take just a short clip out of a very hostile, long situation," Wu continued.
The mayor also noted that Gay, Harvard's first Black president, has been president for a short period of time, and that she apologized after the hearing in question.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and the protests it has sparked across the United States, Gay was aggressively questioned by Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who said calls at Harvard demonstrations to support or expand the Intifada — the term used to describe Palestinian resistance to the state of Israel — were tantamount to calls for the genocide of Jews in Israel and elsewhere. Stefanik then asked Gay if such speech is tolerated at Harvard.
In response, Gay called such speech "hateful" and "abhorrent," but also said Harvard only takes action against speech when it leads to actions such as bullying and harassment.
Gay subsequently apologized for her comments at the hearing, saying she "got caught up in ... an extended, combative exchange" and failed to convey that threats of violence to Harvard's Jewish community "will never go unchallenged."
In January 2021, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government severed its ties with Stefanik, who graduated from Harvard College, over her refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Another university president questioned by Stefanik, the University of Pennsylvania's Liz Magill, resigned following a furor over her responses. A third university president, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sally Kornbluth, was quickly and emphatically backed by that school's governing board.
The Harvard Corporation's letter in support of Gay also referenced recent plagiarism allegations against Gay made by two conservative activists. The corporation said it became aware of the allegations in October and conducted an independent review, which ultimately identified "a few instances of inadequate citation" but no violation of Harvard's research standards.
Wu's comments supporting Gay come as Harvard continues to expand its footprint in Boston's Allston neighborhood.