ETH Zurich students, faculty, and alumni sign letter of support for Dr. Samia Henni after she received a death threat

Call to Action

ETH Zurich students, faculty, and alumni sign letter of support for Dr. Samia Henni after she received a death threat

ETH Zurich (ETH-Bibliothek/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

A petition is circulating in support of Dr. Samia Henni, a visiting professor at ETH Zurich who was previously at Cornell University. It states that on May 16, Dr. Henni received a death threat on the Swiss campus: An unknown vandal placed a “black-and white copy of a painting” on her office door of a woman with a gun to her head—Xenia Hausner’s Bullet in the Head (2004).

Dr. Henni reported the incident as a “clear case of threat” to the Dean’s Office of the Department of Architecture and ETH’s Threat Management Team, and she filed a complaint with Zurich police. According to the petition, the gta Institute waited eight days to email staff and students about the threat: On May 24, the Department of Architecture sent a brief email “vaguely describing and condemning the incident” the petition states. The open letter also says that “ETH has not taken the appropriate measures to prevent further attacks from happening.” 

Dr. Henni—born and raised in Algiers, Algeria—has been an outspoken proponent for Palestine. The petition claims that it’s because of Dr. Henni’s ethnicity and views that’s made her a target. 

The open letter makes reference to a recent article written by Stuttgart University professor Stephan Truby that was published by NZZ on March 19 which mentioned Dr. Henni and several of her colleagues at ETH who have vocally supported Palestine. The petition alleges that the death threat and Truby’s article are connected. 

Truby’s article “falsely discredited, manipulated, and targeted Dr. Henni’s dissertation,” the petition said. “This attack on Dr. Henni’s intellect was clearly motivated by racism and misogyny, seen as she was singled out and targeted by the article’s author, unlike the individuals the author mentions who have likewise publicly shown support for Palestine.” 

After Truby’s article was published, Dr. Henni contacted NZZ editors for them to amend the article and remove its defamatory content, and present her scholarship accurately. But NZZ editors refused. 

The safety of all employees and students is a top priority for ETH Zurich, a spokesperson for ETH Zurich told AN. Unfortunately, even at a large university such as ETH, threatening situations do occasionally occur. We can assure you that events of this nature are not tolerated at ETH under any circumstances and that we use all the means at our disposal to take action against them.

The ETH Zurich spokesperson continued: In addition, ETH members affected by such situations receive intensive support and counselling as well as the assistance of a trained threat management team. This consists of employees from various ETH departments (including the Safety, Security, Health and Environment Department (SSHE), Psychological Counselling Services and the Legal Office). Depending on the situation in question, ETH Zurich works in collaboration with the police.

The events at ETH Zurich come two years after Dr. Henni’s office at Cornell University was vandalized in which “sensitive materials were stolen” from her, as reported by AN. (Cornell University never found the perpetrators.) She was also the victim of online hate speech following separate incidents in 2020/21 after she published an article The Coloniality of an Executive Order and participated in a lecture Palestine is There, Where it Has Always Been.

At Cornell University and now ETH Zurich, the attacks raise important questions about academic freedom, and how universities can protect scholars. The open letter concludes by saying: “The safety of the racialized academic staff is not a joke! We are in anger, and we demand not only CARE but also ACTION against violence!”