From the ADL and Hillel: We All Must Play a Role in Addressing Campus Antisemitism
by Max Sevillia and Mark Rotenberg
A mezuzah ripped from a doorpost of the Hillel at Northeastern University. An advertisement for a Jewish event at Emerson College defaced with antisemitic graffiti. A swastika, a Star of David, and the words “Is Illegal” drawn on a car belonging to a Chabad rabbi at Santa Monica College. And just this past weekend, a Jewish fraternity house at George Washington University vandalized, its Torah scroll doused in laundry detergent.
These are just a few of the antisemitic incidents reported at campuses across the country in recent weeks, as students returned to campus for the Fall semester. They are reminders that antisemitism — that ugly, irrational hatred that has plagued Jews for millennia — is accelerating on American college and university campuses nationwide.
During the 2020-2021 academic year, Hillel International counted at least 244 antisemitic incidents on North American college and university campuses, a significant increase from the 181 antisemitic incidents reported during the previous academic year — when most classes were still taking place in person.
And last week, a new survey released by the ADL and Hillel International offered further confirmation that antisemitism remains a serious problem on campus, as reported by Jewish students themselves.
Our survey found that one-third of Jewish college students personally experienced antisemitism in the last year, either on campus or directed at them from someone in their campus community. The most common forms of antisemitism experienced included slurs and offensive comments. For students who were targeted in person, 79 percent reported that it happened more than once.
Additionally, many students witnessed antisemitism that was not personally directed at them, such as in symbols or posters around campus, or by vandalizing Jewish spaces, like Hillels or fraternity buildings. All together, our survey found that 43 percent of Jewish students either personally experienced antisemitism or witnessed it on campus during the last academic year.
This rise in antisemitic activity has impacted how Jewish students interact on campus. Fifteen percent of students reported that they felt the need to hide their Jewish identity from other students, and even campus employees. Many students described hiding or downplaying their Judaism for fear of being attacked or harassed. Additionally, 10 percent felt unwelcome on campus because of their actual or perceived support for Israel.
But there is also a brighter side to this data. Most Jewish students indicated that their campuses provide them with safe and supportive environments. Seven out of ten students reported feeling safe on campus, and 67 percent felt their campus was welcoming and supportive of Jewish students.
Our survey also found a correlation between participation in Jewish life and feeling safe on campus, highlighting the importance of Jewish clubs and campus organizations, such as Hillel, which provide a sense of community and a space where students can safely explore their Jewish identities.
To fight antisemitism on campus, we must empower the full campus community. Hillel has a presence on 550 college campuses in North America, and has many programs that provide Jewish students and their allies with the tools they need to address antisemitism. And earlier this year, Hillel International and the ADL joined forces to address antisemitism on campus through education and engagement programs for students.
Many campuses have responded swiftly and appropriately to attacks against Jewish students, and some university leaders have spoken out to condemn campus antisemitism. But when administrators and faculty fail to act quickly, the prevalence of antisemitism on campuses can be a significant barrier for Jewish students to feel welcome and safe on campus — and can also compound the problem by making it appear that antisemitism will be accepted.
Hillel’s Campus Climate Initiative is focused on working with university leaders to address antisemitism and hate on campus by strengthening relationships between Jewish leaders, Hillel professionals, and campus officials.
Perhaps the most alarming finding of the joint ADL-Hillel report is that three-quarters of those who personally experienced antisemitism did not report the incident to anyone, and that 41 percent of Jewish students did not know how to report an antisemitic incident if one were to occur.
Hillel and the ADL are addressing this by creating ReportCampusHate.org, in partnership with Secure Communities Network. This site helps Jewish students and their allies report antisemitic incidents that occur on college campuses through an online portal, connecting them to Hillel professionals for support and ensuring the incident is reviewed by trained professionals.
Antisemitism simply has no place on the college campus. The fact that Jewish students continue to encounter it means that everyone — from administrators and faculty to campus law enforcement and student leaders — has a role to play to ensure that campuses provide hate-free environments for all students, regardless of their background. It’s time for all of us to take a stand against hate.
Max Sevillia is Vice President of Government Relations, Advocacy and Community Engagement for ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) and Mark Rotenberg is Vice President of University Initiatives and Legal Affairs for Hillel International.