In the 1930s, the dean of Yale University’s medical school — who was Jewish himself — reportedly advised his admissions team, “Never admit more than five Jews, take only two Italian Catholics, and take no blacks at all.”
The American college campus has come a long way in the past century. Colleges are more diverse, and there are greater efforts to create inclusive environments whereby all students feel comfortable on campus. But that does not mean you won’t encounter biased attitudes and bigotry.
Let’s say something antisemitic happens on your campus. Maybe an opinion piece in the campus newspaper asserts that Israelis are “the new Nazis.” Or a speaker appearing on campus denies the Holocaust. Or a swastika is drawn on the on-campus Chabad House, or a comment made by a fellow student sounds anti-Jewish to you. While this can be hurtful, you have an opportunity to respond effectively, empower your campus community to learn from the event and even take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
If an antisemitic incident happens on your campus:
- DO call campus security or 911 immediately if there is any threat to your safety or that of your fellow students.
- DO report the incident to a campus authority as a bias incident through your campus’s bias-incident reporting system. Even if campus security determines that the action was not illegal, you are ensuring that some type of follow-up will take place. Also report the incident to your local campus Hillel staff.
- DO report the incident to reportcampushate.org, which tracks antisemitic incidents on campus. By sharing incidents with us, you enable national organizations that track antisemitism to provide support, identify patterns and trends, and confirm that colleges and universities are working to ensure that all students feel safe and included on campus.
- DO document the incident. If you discover antisemitic graffiti or posters, take a photo of the scene.
- DO work with administrators to find out if the perpetrator of the incident was a student or someone from off campus. That will make a difference in how campus security and the administration respond to the matter.
- DO ask your university president to issue a statement about what happened, explicitly condemning the antisemitism. In most cases, they will do so without being asked. If no statement has been issued, organize a group of students and faculty to make this request. A strong statement that specifically names the action as antisemitism goes a long way toward making it clear that the school will not tolerate acts of hate.
- DO make sure your university trains staff (campus security staff, residence life advisors, administrators and DEI professionals) and campus leaders (student government and others) on how to recognize antisemitism and how it can be exhibited on campus – including through some anti-Israel activity. Hillel, ADL and others can be helpful in advising your university and conducting appropriate training.
- DON’T use hateful language to respond. Your goal should be to show why bias is hurtful, not to even the score. Sharing the impact of your lived experiences with antisemitism is powerful.
- DON’T take matters into your own hands. If someone puts up antisemitic fliers, for example, do not remove them without approval from your university. DO take photos of the fliers as evidence.
- DON’T call for bans on free speech. Antisemitic speech by itself is generally protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and other laws. Focus instead on countering harmful speech with inclusive speech. The best defense against hate speech, even though it is protected, is more speech, not less.
- DON’T give up. Change can be slow and requires sustained effort. There may be setbacks along the way, but perseverance can help create a safer and more equitable educational experience for yourself, your fellow students and future cohorts for years to come.
Depending on the type of incident and the scope, here are some other things you could do:
- Talk to your fellow students about how much antisemitism can hurt. Speak about the impact it has on you personally, including on your personal behavior (for example, not wearing a Star of David to avoid identifying yourself as Jewish). This is especially relevant if students at the school have a casual culture of making fun of Jewish students or making assumptions about Jews.
- Turn the incident into a teachable moment. Organize a small gathering, or, if you can, a campus-wide event on the topic of mutual respect and understanding for all religious, racial, ethnic and social identity groups. A collective message against antisemitism and all hate can be very powerful. Hillel, an on-campus Jewish Life professional or another relevant campus organization can help you make it happen.
- Show pride in your Jewish identity and heritage. Get involved with Jewish life on campus. For example, going to Shabbat dinner at Hillel is a great way to meet new people and get connected. Learn more about Jewish history and culture.
- Remember, you are NEVER alone.