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March 13, 2017 1:35 pm

My Search for a Safe College for Jews

avatar by Sruli Fruchter

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The NYU campus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The NYU campus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

As I began my research into choosing a college, I was repeatedly told that colleges are tolerant and accepting environments for every individual, regardless of his or her identity and beliefs. My meetings with high school guidance counselors and my experiences on campus tours, so far, have only seemed to affirm this impression. I was thus quite excited by the idea that, when I got to college, to a diverse community where freedom of speech is paramount, I could openly practice my religion and advocate for my beliefs without fear of intimidation or backlash from my fellow students.

Unfortunately, what I have been reading about lately suggests otherwise.

Since the beginning of 2016, the number of antisemitic incidents on college campuses has surged, increasing by 45 percent compared to 2015, according to a study by AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to combating campus antisemitism. The AMCHA report includes every type of incident, from swastikas being engraved in bathrooms or on dorm doors to students being verbally and physically harassed. I was astonished at just how ubiquitous antisemitism has become, occurring at so many universities.

Even a school as prominent and prestigious as New York University did not escape the scourge: Last November, four NYU students awoke to find large, dark swastikas scrawled on their doors. When I saw the online photos, my heart tightened and my stomach constricted. Questions and concerns raced through my head: What if that were my door? How would I cope with the realization that my identity, my religion, made me a target of abuse? How could a diverse and tolerant campus such as NYU be home to such hostility, and in the dorms in particular? Can the school remain a viable college choice for me?

These questions circled through my mind without any answers. And of course it wasn’t just NYU.

In recent months, many other prominent colleges — such as the University of Maryland, Hunter College, Georgetown University, Swarthmore College — have been the sites of similar heinous attacks. At Northwestern University in November, a Jewish Studies lecturer was asked if he was Jewish by a man in a vehicle. When the professor said yes, the unidentified man raised his arm in a Nazi salute and yelled “Heil Hitler.” Shockingly, the mainstream media barely covered the story.

In fact, AMCHA reported over 600 hate crimes against Jews on college campuses in 2016, yet there was, and has been, no national outrage. Except for news outlets that focus on Jewish matters, such as The Algemeiner, most of these episodes received only minimal local coverage at best.

If the assailants at NYU had scrawled anti-Muslim threats on the doors of NYU students, the story would have received national attention. If that lecturer were a man of Muslim faith who was attacked with hateful, religion-based slurs, there would have been universal outrage — including on the relevant campus itself. When it comes to Jews, however, these offenses are largely tolerated. The university president may utter general words of condemnation, but the bottom line is this: the general public, and the campus community, do not truly stand with the Jews among them. Jewish students are more or less defenseless in the face of hate.

The fact that colleges have evolved into arenas where antisemitism doesn’t merely occur but seems actively tolerated, shakes me to my core. Becoming a victim of antisemitism on campus has become a serious fear for me, a worry that haunts me as I continue my research into schools, trying to find an institution that could offer me not merely a good education, but safety and security. What awaits me, when I begin college? Swastikas on my door? Racial slurs from other students? Physical assaults?

Can this truly be how things are — in the United States, in the year 2017?

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