What is your advice for students who encounter anti-Semitism on campus?
— Age 18
There are many different ways to approach this question. We have asked a professional and a recent student activist to contribute their thoughts.
This is one of two responses. Please see response 1 for another perspective.
Now could not be a more exciting time to be a young Jewish woman in college. Whether it be access to learning new information in classrooms—from engineering to journalism—or finding Jewish community at the campus Hillel, young Jewish women are afforded opportunities to help advance them personally and professionally.
College campuses need student leaders who will lead their campus Jewish communities in both identifying and denouncing anti-Semitism as well as educating their university’s administration on effective responses to anti-Semitism. Young Jewish women like you can help take this charge.
Here are five steps you can take to lead and positively impact your campus Jewish community. These are also useful to think about in deciding where to apply—and ultimately where to attend—college.
- Find your Jewish home. A “Jewish home” on campus can be defined as a place where a Jewish student goes to feel like she can freely express her religion and culture without judgement and in safety. College campuses across the U.S. have organizations run by both professionals and students that create this home-away-from-home for hundreds of thousands of students. Some young women discover this through their campus Chabad or Hillel. Other young women discover this through historically Jewish Greek organizations. Once on campus, try a Shabbat dinner and meet individuals in the community at programs. You will then be able to feel out which organization is right for you.
2. Develop mentors and sponsors in the Jewish community. As a freshman aspiring for leadership and impact, it is critical to identify older students who are doing what you hope to be doing in a few years. Introduce yourself to these students and ask them to coffee or lunch. (Pro-tip: Upperclassmen love being swiped into the freshmen dining halls for free meals!) Many older students understand that they must help develop younger students to take the torch and fight their fight once they graduate. Thus, they will appreciate you reaching out. Some of these students will serve as mentors, where you will learn vicariously through the experiences they share. Others will serve as sponsors, where they will advocate for your potential and help you obtain promotional leadership positions. Some students will serve as both for you.
3. Build bridges between campus communities. Some of the most vibrant Jewish communities on campus are those that have deep ties with other student communities, such as the African-American and Latino communities. As a leader in the Jewish community, you will be able to build relationships with other groups of students. By asking these students to coffee and first building a friendship, you will each learn to empathize with the other community’s successes and challenges. By building personal relationships, you will better be able to educate peers on anti-Semitism and work with them when the Jewish community is reliant on outside support, such as during a campus student government vote to divest from the state of Israel.
4. Meet with campus administration. The university administration revolves around the greater good and needs of students. Composed of different departments, some members of the administration focus on student-specific issues, whereas other members focus on broader university-wide issues. Although they are not seen everyday by students, administrators are readily accessible to meet and speak with students.
If an incident arises on campus, you will be able to draw on experts in your Jewish community to follow the appropriate action in notifying the university administration about the issue. For example, you can share an experience with the campus Hillel professional to ask for guidance on which department or member of the administration to contact. This outreach may involve writing a formal letter detailing the incident or emailing directly to schedule an in-person meeting. The administration wants to hear from you, and they want to help you solve the situation.
It’s worth noting that not all incidents that are anti-Semitic will be recognizable as such to campus administrators. In these cases, by meeting with them, you will educate them on why an incident was anti-Semitic and work together on a solution. Working together like this is also an opportunity to form an alliance.
Furthermore, while hate speech is protected under freedom of speech for public universities, the solution is more speech—speech that condemns bigotry and upholds the university’s values. Universities can publish statements and create programs that reinforce the university’s values of inclusion, equality, and diversity and explain why anti-Semitic incidents violate these values.
5. Leverage off-campus Jewish community resources. Many national Jewish organizations exist to help Jewish students combat anti-Semitism on campuses across the country. Depending on your campus, your Jewish community may have stronger ties to different organizations. For example, some Jewish communities are connected with their local Jewish Federation, a large organization that has resources available to help with Jewish student affairs issues. Also, national organizations have regional points of contact who work directly with your campus when an issue arises, such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Remember that as a student, you are not alone—these organizations exist to help you overcome these challenges.