Are colleges doing enough to protect Jewish students from antisemitism?

A new survey shows that 32% reported hate symbols and speech in 2020-21, even as most were working remotely.
By: | October 28, 2021
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A new report released by the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International shows that close to one-third of students who identified as being Jewish say they were victims of antisemitism and exclusion on their college campuses.

The survey of more than 750 undergraduate Jewish students across 220 higher education institutions during July and August shows that a record 244 incidents of antisemitism occurred during the 2020-21 academic year, a startling fact given that most were operating remotely.

Those students faced a barrage of hate, including verbal abuse and physical destruction of property—from Swastikas, Nazi symbols to antisemitic language and tropes. From the report, a student said they faced a Nazi salute from an individual at a party when they found out they were Jewish. Most victims didn’t report it for fear of repercussion and 40% of those who did said they received no follow-up from campus leaders.

“This survey makes clear that antisemitism and hate are of growing concern for Jewish college students and merits the serious attention of university leaders across the country,” said Adam Lehman, President and CEO of Hillel International. “These findings underscore the importance of our work at Hillel engaging with university administrators to address the campus climate for Jewish students and ensure that all students can live and study in a safe and welcoming environment.”

Of those who responded, nearly 80% said that those incidents occurred multiple times. That has forced 15% of them to hide their religious identity. The organizations say they are notably facing hate over the Israeli government’s responses, including its conflict with Hamas in Gaza. And it was concerned about hate coming from both conservatives (69%) and liberals (62%).

“Jewish students are facing more antisemitism and hate on college campuses than we previously thought,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO and National Director. “We need to ensure that every Jewish student feels safe and empowered to express their Jewish values and their whole selves when they are in the classroom, residence halls and throughout campus life.”

Despite the alarming statistics, one positive is that 71% said they felt safe with their identity as Jews on their campus and about two-thirds said their colleges and universities provided a welcoming environment for them. But for those who had faced attacks, half expressed concern about the safety and their institution’s efforts to combat hate. Many of those responses from the survey noted the occurrence of incidents online or via social media.

How can colleges help combat the problem?

Colleges and universities should work more diligently to ensure that reporting mechanisms are well-known, easy and private for students. Around 40% of students said they did not know how or where to report instances of antisemitic activity. Hillel and the ADL says colleges also should effort to build “thriving Jewish life on college campuses to offer Jewish students a safe space free of antisemitism.” One consideration that students mentioned that is not occurring is their lack of representation on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

More than a third of Jewish students believe student governments should take a more active role, and more than a quarter say faculty can better assist them. The organizations recommended that colleges offer training to staff, students and faculty on antisemitism. They also should investigate any incidents that are reported quickly.

A new tool to help combat antisemitism available to colleges and students is ReportCampusHate.org, which was recently created by the Anti-Defamation League, Hillel and the Secure Network Community. The groups are also hosting an event called Never Is Now online from Nov. 7-9 to address the topic of antisemitism in higher education.