The Algemeiner’s 2nd Annual List of the Most Challenging North American Campuses for Jewish Students
When we published our first annual lists last year of the “best” and “worst” colleges for Jewish students in the US and Canada, we weren’t sure what to expect.
We were therefore encouraged to discover just how widespread the interest was. We received considerable reader feedback and fielded interviews for weeks from media outlets across the globe that reported on our findings. The lists even seem to have become a catalyst for the production of similar rankings by other publications.
We also received our share of criticism, which we’ll do our best to address in this introduction to our 2017 list of the “40 worst colleges for Jewish students.”
We undertook the project last year in an effort to shine a spotlight on the concerning state of affairs for Jewish students in this country. Studies show that high percentages of Jewish students say they have witnessed, experienced or heard antisemitism on their campus. To our dismay, this troubling trend does not appear to be slowing down. An Anti-Defamation League report released in early 2018 revealed an astronomical 89 percent rise in antisemitic incidents on campuses between 2016 and 2017.
The launch of our Campus Bureau in 2016 has uniquely positioned us to closely follow developments on campuses across the continent. Often, stories first reported on our pages subsequently garnered national and international attention.
Over the past year, we wrote about anti-Israel activities at Tufts University, Pitzer College, and Claremont Colleges around Passover, and we covered the student leader at McGill University who urged others to “punch a Zionist.” At Rutgers University, we first reported on the employment of a former Assad regime spokesman as an adjunct professor and helped expose another professor’s antisemitic social media postings.
Engaging with campus leaders and Jewish students as we covered these and hundreds of similar stories throughout the year has reinforced for us the importance of publishing these lists. In doing so, we seek to enhance understanding of the landscape and provide tools for parents, alumni, and administrators to work toward stamping out hate and fostering a more inclusive environment for Jewish students.
As we wrote last year, “We do not necessarily believe that Jewish students should avoid these campuses, but do believe it imperative that prospective students and their families be fully informed about the environments they are poised to enter, and arrive prepared.”
The expansion this year of our “best” campuses list stems from our hope that the compilation is seen as motivational, and inspires those who came up short to explore what it might take to rank better in future years.
Responding to the critics
Last year, the response to our first publication of the “worst” colleges list was largely positive. We were particularly thrilled to hear from campus leaders who said they at last felt that the challenges they faced daily were being noticed.
The list also received some pushback. The most common critique was from some Jewish campus groups who felt that their school’s inclusion in the rankings was a criticism of their activism. Others spoke of their own antisemitism-free experiences on campus and wondered if the situation was really that dire.
Our response to the first group is to reiterate what we wrote last year: our recognition of hostile elements at a certain university should not be taken as an indictment of its Jewish community, or the often tireless efforts of those students, faculty, and advocates who remain dedicated to enriching and protecting Jewish life on campus. Rather, it is a reflection of the challenges that some students may nonetheless face, even while enjoying a firm communal foundation.
It is often the case, after all, that those campuses with the most active Jewish communities are also home to the most antisemitism. To address this dichotomy while compiling this year’s lists, we separately considered each school’s negative and positive aspects, and only kept those with exceptional Jewish life on the “worst” list if the hostile activity on their campuses cast a significant shadow over their strengths.
In addition, it is important to note that there are approximately 400,000 Jewish undergraduates at colleges and universities in North America. This means that despite the worrying trends we are seeing, the majority of Jewish students will thankfully have a trouble-free experience on campus. This truth, however, does little to mitigate our overall concern.
What do the rankings take into account?
With the understanding that list-making in general is by no means a perfect science, we have sought to be as comprehensive and thoughtful as possible in constructing our formulas.
In consultation with experienced data analysts, we identified a set of criteria that are likely to have the greatest impact on the environment for Jewish students. The success of a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign on campus was a significant factor, for example, as was the active presence of anti-Israel groups and pro-boycott faculty members. Studies have shown that boycott activity targeting Israel and the presence of Students for Justice in Palestine — a leading anti-Zionist group — are each strong predicators of a hostile campus climate toward both Jews and Israel. Likewise, greater numbers of faculty members who support boycotts of Israel on campus have been linked to more instances of anti-Jewish hostility.
Additional factors we looked at include the number of antisemitic incidents recorded at each school, based on the US State Department’s definition of antisemitism, which recognizes certain kinds of discriminatory attacks on Israel. We also considered the Jewish student population, Jewish Studies offerings, and Jewish resources available at each school, as well as the presence of Jewish and pro-Israel student groups, among other elements.
In addition to the above, we also sought the feedback and guidance of experienced campus leaders whose input has been incorporated into the final compilation.
Please keep in mind that the descriptions accompanying the entries on the list are not intended to explain in full detail the ranking of each college, but rather to shed light on the state of affairs at different campuses through relevant anecdotes and highlights.
Lastly, we are thankful to you, our readers, for taking the time to review this important analysis. We look forward to hearing your feedback and engaging further with you in the comment section below.
— The Algemeiner editors