Message from the Principal and St Andrews Students’ Association

Saturday 9 December 2023

In a joint email to all staff and students this week (Friday 8 December), University of St Andrews Principal, Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, President of the Students’ Association, Barry Will, and Cam Brown, Director of Education, St Andrews Students’ Association said:

Dear Students and Colleagues,

We’re writing to you after a very difficult period for some students and staff at St Andrews.

Freedom of speech, the right to speak up on the war in Israel in Gaza, the duties of office, and fears, tensions and concerns felt by those directly impacted by the war have been the subject of debate and argument.

That is as it should be in an international academic community which values freedom of expression.

But freedom of expression should never be a pathway to discrimination, nor should it question the right of any of us to exist, our faith, or our right to live our lives in this community as our authentic selves.

In recent days in our town of St Andrews, Muslim students have been attacked or harassed for wearing the hijab, and Jewish students have been attacked or harassed because they wore the Star of David or the kippah.

Our Rector has experienced racist abuse after media coverage of her decision to express her personal views on the war.

Let’s call these incidents for what they are – they’re hate crimes.

This is not the St Andrews that any of us recognise, or want to be a part of.

Words matter. They can inspire and reassure, and they can divide, inflame and cause fear.

In the words of our recent honorary graduate, Margaret Attwood: “Like every human tool, words can be used to create, or to destroy.

“Use your words of power, but use them with care, use them precisely to say what they actually mean … but use them justly and truly.”

We can each be passionate and utterly committed to our viewpoints and beliefs in respect of the appalling loss of life, injustice and suffering we see in Gaza and Israel and in other conflicts across the world, but we can do that in ways which do not cause fear or offence to those with whom we work and study, and which simmer down tensions, rather than inflame them.

Commitments to action also matter. On behalf of the University and the Students’ Association, we are today reaffirming that St Andrews has zero tolerance for racism or hate.

That means any of us found engaging in such behaviour, physically or online, can expect to face the most extreme sanctions open to the University. That may mean dismissal, or being expelled.

This is a place where students and staff should be able to study, work, live and socialise with each other without fear; where our diverse identities are celebrated; where race, religion, attire and skin colour are embraced and respected without prejudice.

We know that you all believe in that place; that’s the University you joined.

More than ever, we need you to live and promote St Andrews’ values of tolerance, inclusivity and compassion, and never take them for granted.

In the days, weeks and months ahead, we will be meeting and listening to a broad range of students and staff to hear your ideas about the things we can do as individuals and institutions to nurture an environment in which everyone feels valued, safe, and heard. Your voice, your perspective and your own words matter.

As your representatives, we are collaborating with our communities and student groups to learn what more we can do collectively. This isn’t just about taking action when hate incidents occur, it’s about understanding and addressing the root causes.

Our commitment is not only to react, but proactively to engage and educate, so that our shared work as a community can foster an environment where respect and understanding are the norm, not the exception.

Below are links for reporting hate crime. Please feel confident to report or reach out if you’ve experienced this, or if you’ve witnessed it happening to others. You can report to the University in person, or anonymously.


Professor Dame Sally Mapstone FRSE

Principal and Vice-Chancellor


Barry Will

President, St Andrews Students’ Association


Cam Brown

Director of Education, St Andrews Students’ Association


Links and Resources


Reporting to the University


Reporting to the Police


Advice from Victim Support

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