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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

College indefinitely postpones Geisel talk on health in Gaza

Retired obstetrician-gynecologist Alice Rothchild’s lecture — originally scheduled for May 16 — has been moved off campus, sparking controversy among Rothchild and some professors.


On April 26, administrators from the College, the Geisel School of Medicine and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center indefinitely postponed a lecture by retired obstetrician-gynecologist Alice Rothchild, titled “Health and Human Rights Consequences of War on Gaza.” Rothchild — who is also a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace — said she “wasn’t given a clear reason” why the original talk, set to take place on May 16 in Oopik Auditorium, was postponed.

In a statement to the Valley News, College spokesperson Jana Barnello wrote that the postponement was due to “scheduling changes on the speaker’s East Coast tour.” Rothchild, however, disputed this reasoning. 

“I read that an administrator had said that the talk had been postponed because of my scheduling conflict, which is totally false,” Rothchild said. “I am available, and I am going to be here in the Upper Valley, and I am going to give the talk.”

With the support of Geisel faculty, Rothchild said she moved the lecture off campus and will be speaking on May 16 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Norwich. Rothchild said the College may ask her to speak again “on some date to be decided” and that she would accept an invitation to speak “whenever they’re ready to hear” from her.  

“It is very troubling to feel shut down by a university when the goal is to learn more, and to have a discourse,” Rothchild said. “And I don’t mean screaming at each other. I mean having a discourse. I mean understanding the facts. This has nothing to do with antisemitism, with bigotry. This is just looking at the facts and trying to figure out how we respond.”

In an email statement to The Dartmouth, Dartmouth Health spokesperson Audra Burns confirmed that Rothchild will likely be invited to give a lecture at some point in the future. The specific date has not been determined and the rescheduled event would take place over Zoom, she added. 

For more than two decades, Rothchild has primarily focused on “human rights and healthcare in Israel-Palestine,” traveling to the region almost every year, she said. She was last in Gaza in August. 

The postponed event, part of Rothchild’s speaking tour in the Northeast, would have followed similar lectures at other colleges over the last six months — including Michigan State University, New York University, Rutgers University, Stanford University and the University of Virginia, according to Rothchild.

Rothchild, who is Jewish, said people have called her talks — which focus on the health impacts of the conflict in Gaza — antisemitic.  

“There are people who say that what I say is antisemitic, and that I’m a kapo because I’m a Jewish person who is critical of Israeli policy, but I feel quite strongly that the Israeli government is currently behaving in a morally and politically unacceptable way and we need to expose the facts,” she said. 

The event’s postponement has sparked controversy at Geisel. Community and family medicine professor Donald Kollisch, who helped plan the event, said he thought the talk might have been indefinitely postponed for political reasons. 

“It is my guess that they were concerned that given the atmosphere on campuses across the country, that her talk might be politicized by one side or the other,” he said. 

While Rothchild said her talk itself is not political — and instead focuses on the medical impact of the war on Gaza — she said she hopes it sparks subsequent student dialogue on Israeli and U.S. policy.

“The United States, because it provides billions and billions of dollars of military support and political cover, is the prime mover that makes it possible for the Israeli government and the Israeli military to do what it’s doing,” Rothchild said. “I think it is really important for everyone to understand what the impact of this happening is, and to ask ourselves, ‘Is this how we want our government to be?’”

Obstetrics and gynecology professor Daisy Goodman said she was “shocked” that the original event was canceled, adding that Geisel invited Rothchild purely because of her extensive medical experience. 

“Dr. Rothchild is a nationally and internationally known retired obstetrician and gynecologist who has done a great deal of human rights work in the United States and abroad,” Goodman said. “She has visited Gaza many, many times, and she has a lot of contacts there in terms of healthcare providers, and has been very much involved in supporting those providers in Gaza for many years.”

Kollisch also said Rothchild’s prenatal care expertise is important to Geisel’s mission. 

“The medical school is dedicated to addressing and alleviating suffering, so her documentation of the humanitarian impact of the events in Gaza seems like a very important expert source of information — particularly of the suffering and the health challenges of pregnant women, the challenges of delivering babies in Gaza, postpartum care and the health of the newborns and infants,” Kollisch said.

Goodman also noted that Dartmouth “frequently” hosts events concerning the public health consequences of war, including several talks related to the war in Ukraine. Last year, for example, Dartmouth Health sponsored a lecture entitled “Ukraine, the ‘War of Russian Aggression’ and the future of humanitarian medical care.”

“This seems like exactly the time that an academic institution would want to sponsor such a conversation,” Goodman said. “Further, Dartmouth has purported itself to be a place where dialogue is occurring on this issue. I found it very distressing that this talk was canceled, and embarrassing.”

Goodman added that she found it “disappointing” to miss an opportunity to “provide critically important information” to the Dartmouth medical community.

“We are here to educate the best doctors possible,” Goodman said. “[We teach] people who are going to be serving communities in need nationally and internationally … and that requires us to really engage with what is going on in the world.”

Update Appended (May 14, 6:56 p.m.): After publication, College spokesperson Jana Barnello wrote in an email statement to The Dartmouth that “organizers have every intention to reschedule Dr. Rothchild’s lecture.” Barnello added that organizers “have informed [the College] they plan to discuss new dates this week.” This article has been updated.