When I was in college, I proudly served as the editor-in-chief of the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s (UMBC) newspaper, The Retriever. In this role, I had a unique opportunity: I met and befriended fascinating people, including UMBC’s trailblazing president Dr. Freeman Hrabowski; I sent reporters on assignment and reviewed op-eds that set the tone for discussions about complex issues; and, most importantly, I witnessed the rich intellectual exchanges that celebrated academic freedom and open discourse.
Today, I see that academic freedom and open discourse slipping away as the BDS movement and anti-Israel bias threaten dialogue on Israel and the values that made my time as editor-in-chief of UMBC’s paper so special. During my time as a student, UMBC didn’t face the anti-Israel hatred that we see today on many American college campuses.
While at UMBC, I often wrote about Israel, in hopes of sharing the deep, multifaceted, and beautiful story of the nation.
In 2013, the American Studies Association’s leadership decided to join the anti-Semitic boycott of Israel via the BDS movement. I was shocked to find that UMBC’s American Studies Association—as a member of the ASA—embraced this decision. I realized that productive discourse on Israel would thus be stifled at my alma mater. This occurrence is part of a larger trend that we must address.
We as alumni are in a unique position to mobilize across the country to speak out about bigotry and anti-Semitism at our alma maters. We can help ensure that universities remain inclusive of all students, including Jewish and Zionist students.
These students have headed back to campus to begin a new academic year.
As alumni, we may no longer be on campuses, but our voices still matter. We continue to support our universities, both financially and beyond, by acting as donors and ambassadors. We root for our college sports teams, we lead alumni organizations, and we are involved in committees that shape our school’s vision.
As the years pass, I have become increasingly proud of my degree from UMBC. I still feel part of the UMBC family, and as with any family, I feel compelled to speak up for the values that UMBC holds dear. Our alma maters’ administrations value our voices, but we must be willing to speak up.
1. Pen an op-ed: Write to your school’s newspaper. If you see a news story about anti-Semitic activity at your university or anti-Zionist op-eds published in your alma mater’s paper, pen an op-ed as an alumnus who cares about your campus and the students there. When the UMBC American Studies Association expressed support for the BDS movement, I wrote an op-ed in the campus newspaper and contacted UMBC administration to express my dismay.
2. Get involved with your alumni association: Engage with your university’s alumni association and attend local alumni activities. Rally other alumni to support safe spaces for Jewish and Zionist students and promote a campus climate that stands against bigotry and anti-Semitism.
3. Send a letter to the university president or board of trustees: Make your voice heard on issues of anti-Semitism and bigotry and ask fellow alumni to co-sign a letter urging clear action from administration. Outline the issue at hand and express how administration can take steps toward resolving that issue.
4. Join Alums for Campus Fairness: ACF represents the united alumni voice on campus on issues of anti-Semitism, demonization of Israel and bigotry. With over 35 chapters and thousands of alumni, ACF forms a united front, sending a clear message that there is no place for hate on campus. They empower alumni to start petitions, publish op-eds, pen open letters to administration and spearhead closed-door meetings with university leaders. Their work helps ensure that a Jewish student at, say, UMBC can write an op-ed in their school paper supporting Israel without being marginalized — just as I could years ago.
I look back on my time at UMBC with great appreciation for the faculty and fellow students who allowed me to grow and learn in a creative and intellectually challenging environment.
Now it is our turn to help ensure that today’s Jewish and Zionist students have a positive experience on campus that they can look back on for years to come.