The recent rise of anti-Semitism has led to Jewish students feeling attacked and alone on U.S. college campuses.
Colleges around the country have become much more attentive to the needs of their students in the last several years, partially due to scandals that have hurt their reputations. From sexual assault and blatant racism at Michigan State University to cheating scandals at Georgetown and Stanford, universities are under the microscope for how they protect their students.
One issue that unfortunately has not gotten a lot of attention on college campuses is how increasingly unsafe Jewish students feel. There are several reasons for this, the major one being ignorance or a lack of knowledge of the history of anti-Semitism. Hatred toward Jews on campuses is often expressed in a non-obvious way, such as a political conversation about the state of Israel, and is rarely demonstrated via more traditional discrimination tactics or direct violence.
Due to the lack of “obvious” discrimination, these constant examples of anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation do not receive much mainstream media attention. According to a January 2020 ADL poll, more than half of American adults (61 percent) agree with at least one or more classic anti-Semitic canards, such as that Jews control the media; Jews are more loyal to Israel than the U.S.; and Jews talk about the Holocaust too much. In Europe, the situation is dire as well. In a 2018 CNN poll of Europeans, over a third said that Jews use the Holocaust to advance their own positions or goals.
The rapid rise of anti-Semitism in the last several years has negatively impacted Jewish students on college campuses and should not be a political issue. The threats Jews face from far-right and far-left forces are significant, and both must be actively combatted. The inability, and sometimes unwillingness, of schools such as Columbia, the University of North Carolina and MSU to deal with this issue is dangerous and leads to ignorance and targeting of Jewish students.
At Columbia, anti-Semitic incidents included classroom/academic harassment of students as well as prominent anti-Jewish guest speakers. The president of the University, Lee Bollinger, said in 2020 that he had become increasingly concerned about the treatment of Jewish students on campus.
At UNC, the Department of Education was forced to get involved due to virulent discrimination against Jewish students within academic curriculums. Finally, at my university, MSU, there have been several anti-Semitic incidents on campus, such as the painting of swastikas and the vandalism of the MSU Hillel Jewish student center.
I also took a class full of anti-Semitic content at MSU, during which the professor told students that Jewish money controls American politics and that Jews stole all the land in the Middle East from Arabs to create the state of Israel.
The recent rise of anti-Semitism has led to Jewish students feeling attacked and alone on U.S. college campuses. Students, faculty and staff have not received adequate training for addressing anti-Semitism, resulting in Jews being forced to stand up for themselves.
To make Jewish students feel safe, universities need to ensure students are not being singled out. That means there must be a way for students to make their voices heard on campus without needing to protest or demonstrate. Universities must have mechanisms in place for students to report bigotry of any kind and then, most importantly, be able to act on those reports to keep students safe.
On many campuses, students have the lack of clarity on how to deal with incidents of hate or ignorance, stalling progress. This flaw exists currently at MSU, even when the evidence is crystal clear that action must be taken.
The aforementioned class I took was about America’s role in the Middle East and featured a book written by military historian Geoffrey Wawro called Quicksand, in which he attempts to explain the U.S involvement in the region. He employs plenty of anti-Semitism in his explanation, essentially blaming Jews for U.S involvement in the region, and accusing Jews of manipulating American citizens and administrations into wrong foreign policy decisions. While discussing the creation of the state of Israel, he describes the supposed effort of Zionist Jews internationally to gain American sympathy for their cause. ““The American Public — saddened by Jewish suffering and largely unaware of Arab claims in Palestine — eagerly embraced the Zionist propaganda that appeared in every major American newspaper and many minor ones, too,” Wawro wrote. “The Jewish propaganda was ingenious, appealing at the same time to American sentimentality and anti-Semitism.”
When I tried to report the anti-Semitism in this class, I was stonewalled. Members of the Office of Inclusion and Equity (OIE), as well as other departments on campus dealing with harassment and inclusion, informed me there was nothing that could be done, and that the class did not “reach the level of discrimination.”
I am still trying to get the university to take action and protect Jewish students (and other groups under siege) on campus. The university needs to come up with a system that promotes the concerns of students, instead of bogging them down with procedure and informing them the status quo will just have to do. For many groups, including Jewish students, the status quo is unacceptable.
Universities could also help fight discrimination and bigotry by instituting programs that bring people together to combat bigotry, such as the ADL program called No Place for Hate, which educates students on bias and discrimination starting from as early as middle school. The program includes curriculums that go in depth on various forms of bigotry and discrimination and can be vital for students of all ages to gain a better understanding of the issues. Another option is the MSU Dialogues program, in which students learn more about other identities and cultures. The Dialogues program is optional, and only 120 students, including me, participated in the spring of 2020. Expanding the program and mandating participation could help stomp out hate and bigotry.
It will take communities and students of all backgrounds working together and supporting each other make all students feel safe, including Jews, people of color and the LGBTQ community. It will also take critical assistance from the universities. Although the Serling Institute of Jewish Studies has done their best to support Jewish students on campus through workshops and classes on Israel, they cannot do it by themselves. By working together, students, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds can fight back against hate and ensure college campuses are a safe place for all.
Alan Shulman is a senior at Michigan State University majoring in international relations with minors in Russian studies and Jewish studies.
You can read Shulman’s entire essay below.