Monday, May 23rd | 22 Iyyar 5782

March 8, 2022 3:53 pm

When ‘Diversity’ Efforts on College Campuses Don’t Protect Jews

avatar by Avi D. Gordon


The McKeldin Mall at the University of Maryland, College Park in Maryland. Photo Credit: Radhika Kshirsagar/Wikimedia Commons.

American college campuses are special places. Many alumni, like me, have fond memories of our academic pursuits and campus communities. There are few places as welcoming and outwardly inclusive for students of diverse backgrounds as colleges.

Sadly, however, many Jewish students have been left out of campus diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. As we promote these values on campus, we can’t forget the world’s oldest hatred: antisemitism.

For centuries, campuses were usually regarded as havens for the privileged and elite. While there is still much work to be done, this has been changing rapidly over the past few decades.

Amid this backdrop, nearly every institution of higher learning in the United States has prioritized DEI in recent years. Diverse campuses foster a constructive learning environment for students and faculty alike. But as is the case with any good-faith effort, DEI initiatives are not without their faults and failures. Too often, Jewish students have become collateral damage in the battle to make higher education more equitable.

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Sadly, most American colleges and universities have poor track records when it comes to antisemitism, both historically and currently. Today, Jews are viewed as “white” and “privileged” by DEI professionals based on nothing more than ignorance or prejudice.

Allow me to simplify it: Jews are not “white.” As it happens, we don’t all look alike. When we were exiled from the land of Israel nearly two millennia ago, Jews fled to every corner of the Earth. While Jews comprise less than one-fifth of one percent of the global population, Jewish communities can be found nearly everywhere. Jews come from all backgrounds, and even those from European backgrounds are not “white” — a term which has been used to attack anyone who doesn’t identify with a racial minority in America, regardless of their individual merit or unique qualities.

For example, Jews suffer hate crimes at a higher rate than any other religious minority community in the United States, according to the FBI’s 2021 hate crime statistics.

I’ve spent my entire professional life fighting for the Jewish future on American college campuses. Until recently, I thought I’d seen it all. Then I learned of an incident at the University of Maryland, home to one of the nation’s largest and most vibrant Jewish student bodies. An extreme anti-Israel activist who spread hateful conspiracy theories online was tapped to lead a task force tackling antisemitism. Under the guise of DEI, the University of Maryland ended up with a “fox guarding the henhouse.”

As the head of one of the largest alumni networks dedicated to eradicating on-campus antisemitism, I am often asked by campus stakeholders what role they can play to make things better for the next generation of Jewish students.

The answer is simple: stand up, speak out, and harness your unique power as alumni to fight back. One of the incredible things about Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), the organization I lead, is how it gives alumni the tools to do just that. We must make it a priority to ensure that Jewish voices have a seat at the table in campus DEI offices nationwide.

Antisemitism has become endemic on American college campuses. While some administrators have taken decisive actions to protect Jewish students, far too many still do not recognize the threat or do not take it seriously.

In a survey published last year, ACF found that 80% of undergraduates and recent graduates have experienced antisemitism in some form. When Israel is attacked or uniquely scrutinized on campuses, Jewish students often pay the price. According to the Anti-Defamation League, when Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) resolutions arise in student government, antisemitic incidents spike, placing Jews in immediate danger. In many cases, anti-Israel activists co-opt the language of DEI and social justice to bully and harass Jewish students.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are worthwhile principles. Our institutions should not dismiss them out of hand. But we must make sure these initiatives do not become hijacked for illiberal purposes, and ultimately used as a cudgel against Jewish students. As they administer these programs, campus officials must take into account the unique challenges Jewish students face as a minority community on campus. Alumni stakeholders have a responsibility to keep a watchful eye on DEI — and we must all be part of that effort.

Avi D. Gordon is the Executive Director of Alums for Campus Fairness.

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