Oglethorpe University will always have a special place in my heart. My parents met here, and my grandfather taught here as a young psychologist. I truly consider this school as part of my heritage. However, the other vital part of my heritage is being a proud Jewish woman. At Oglethorpe, it’s becoming impossible to simultaneously have these identities. My university has proved time and time again that acceptance and safety for Jewish students are not a priority.
Oglethorpe has roughly 40 Jewish students in their entire body. In my personal experience, it would be difficult to guess how many students would be comfortable being openly Jewish on campus (that would entail identifying themselves in class, campus climate surveys, etc.) Why is Oglethorpe such an uncomfortable space for Jewish students? The answers lie within their new faculty and how they run the recently developed “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) department.
I’ve seen anti-Israel sentiment throughout my years at Oglethorpe, but nothing I felt was truly traumatizing. This all changed in the spring semester of 2022 when Oglethorpe hired a new vice president of student affairs who had a heinous history of supporting anti-Israel propaganda and directly placing herself in positions to “handle” issues Jewish students face on campus.
Dr. Meredith Raimondo contacted me soon after she was hired after I publicly voiced concern (along with other Jewish students) about a pro-Lenin group on campus named “The Radical Petrels,” who encouraged their followers to listen to a podcast that contained highly anti-semitic content. Dr. Raimondo is not in charge of the “DEI.” Dr. Laura Chandler holds this position yet never once directly answered my emails regarding antisemitic concerns on campus.
Why would a brand-new administration member, inexperienced with our campus climate and not directly affiliated with the “DEI,” be so keen to handle my issue? This was a mystery to me, but not for long.
I was shocked to learn that students, alumni, professors, and staff had voiced concerns at Oberlin College, where Raimondo “handled” issues involving Jewish students. When Raimondo served as Oberlin’s Special Assistant to the President for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity from 2014 to 2021, Oberlin College became a hotbed of antisemitism.
An open letter published in 2016 by students addressed to the college detailed numerous issues, including routine harassment and violent threats against Jewish students by student organizations and excluding Jews from student life for their “Zionism.” She failed to protect Jewish students while serving in a role responsible for shaping the campus climate. Does Raimondo intend to carry this over to Oglethorpe?
It certainly appears that way, as no measures to address the antisemitism spread by student groups at Oglethorpe have been taken.
On April 15th, 2021, CAMERA’s Karen Bekker published a sobering assessment of the issues at Oberlin, where Raimondo served as an Associate Professor and Dean of Students. In sum, Oberlin does not have clear guidelines identifying antisemitism as it manifests on campus.
This article encouraged me to propose adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism to empower the student government and encourage administrators at Oberlin to address the issues on our campus.
With support from Jewish peers at Oglethorpe, I proposed adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism to our student government to help protect future students against discrimination. Soon after the proposal, Raimondo contacted me again when she heard about the bill and asked that we meet. She was respectful in her demeanor but offered no real answers about assisting us in passing the resolution codifying the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
Our student government failed miserably to do its one job, representing its students’ dire concerns. SGA saw passing the IHRA as “partial” and believed they must deny it because of a need to exhibit “impartiality.” Over four weeks later, SGA reached out through email to let us know the IHRA had been voted on and that it was voted against in-house by them.
Oglethorpe was my home for four years. Now I am here, recently graduated. I am saddened by my alma mater. I’ve witnessed the destruction of a once “safe space” for Jewish students. I genuinely hope my university will correct its course and make Oglethorpe a campus where Jews are not targeted for their views on Israel.
This final message is for you: Dr. Raimondo, Dr. Chandler, and the Oglethorpe Student Government. There will be no diversity, equity, or inclusion until you start including the concerns of Jewish students in your work. If your activism doesn’t include Jews, it’s not activism.
Are you interested in speaking out against anti-Israel bias? For current students, alumni, and community members interested in contributing to the campaign, CAMERA on Campus is now taking open submissions. Visit opensubmissions.camera for more details!