I recently spoke to my friend who is currently studying abroad in London about her experiences. Due to anti-Semitic sentiment and violent attacks in Europe, she has been told that if others knew she was Jewish, it could put her in danger. So, in certain places, she has to hide this aspect of her identity and must monitor what she says in public.
As a student at the University of Connecticut, this initially felt distant and foreign to me. However, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidences are not just happening abroad, but are also occurring on college campuses all across the United States. In a study examining anti-Semitism on college campuses conducted by the Louis D. Brandeis Center and Trinity College, they found that 54 percent of Jewish students surveyed have experienced or witnessed some form of anti-Semitism.
It is important to keep in mind that anti-Semitism can take on various forms and often occurs within everyday contexts. The U.S. Department of State’s working definition of anti-Semitism is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” Therefore, there are a wide variety of acts that can be considered acts of anti-Semitism, such as calling someone an offensive name or physical assault.
The study also took into account the following individual characteristics of the victims: gender, college year, worldview and indicators of Jewish identity, organizational membership, location and type of campus. The data collected showed that “few types of Jewish students are immune from or can avoid this problem in today’s campuses.” Additionally, the rates of occurrence across regions of the U.S. only differed slightly, suggesting that anti-Semitism is a problem on college campuses across the country, regardless of location.
The most common incidences reported were of students who experienced anti-Semitism from an individual student. Students also reported anti-Semitism in other contexts, such as flyers, social media and graffiti. Instances of anti-Semitic graffiti have occurred at numerous universities, including Emory, UC Davis, Tufts, and Vanderbilt, where swastikas were spray painted onto fraternity houses.
In addition, students reported that they witnessed or experienced anti-Semitism in clubs, organizations, and even in classes. Recently, at the University of California Los Angeles, a student running for a position on the judicial council was scrutinized and almost denied appointment by the student government because she was Jewish. While many agreed that she was more than qualified for the position, they were hesitant to support her appointment because of her affiliation to Jewish organizations. The student’s roommate wrote an article in UCLA’s Daily Bruin stating that “The first question directed at her by General Representative 3 Fabienne Roth was an attack on Rachel’s ability to be a justice based on her involvement in the Jewish community.” In the end, the council approved her appointment after a faculty member addressed why the reasoning for denying her appointment was problematic.
Students are even experiencing anti-Semitism in the classroom. At Northeastern University, professor Muhammad Shahid Alam demonizes Israel, delegitimizes Jewish history, and infringes on his students’ free speech by shutting down any differing views. A non-Jewish student who dropped his class stated that “if someone does raise a counterpoint, he uses semantics to twist it around and try to tear whoever asked the question apart.” Classrooms are a place where students should feel comfortable sharing their unique opinions. Some of the most meaningful learning experiences occur when students question course content and explore various perspectives. Therefore, violating a student’s right to free speech is also infringing on their right to learn.
Universities should be safe learning environments where individuals feel comfortable expressing their opinions and being themselves. Students need to be more informed about this issue and about what constitutes an act of anti-Semitism. It is important that universities acknowledge and address this issue of rising anti-Semitism so that all students can feel a sense of belonging and security on campus.