A New Kind of ‘Safety’ School


On March 31, a number of colleges announced their admissions decisions for the class of 2020. As colleges and students seek the best fit, I have suggestions for both that take account of rising campus anti-Semitism.

For those who haven’t been watching, anti-Semitism is back in fashion at an increasing number of American universities. Some of it takes the form of “traditional” anti-Semitism. In other cases, it appears in the guise of anti-Zionism.

Drawing swastikas on fraternity houses, impugning the qualifications and loyalty of Jewish student-government candidates, promoting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in the classroom, hounding professors who write Facebook posts supporting Israel against Hamas, shouting down scheduled speakers supporting the right of Israel to exist, demanding a (non-Israel-related) speaker withdraw on the grounds that Hillel co-sponsored her talk, all seem part of the new normal.

These events aren’t happening in the backwaters, but at prominent schools, and the dishonor roll gets longer every month.

By contrast, several American colleges have worked hard in the last 15 years to raise their rankings by luring Jewish students. Impressed by Jews’ reputation for intellectual vitality or simply seeking “diversity” and a national reputation, schools such as Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, Vanderbilt University, Washington and Lee University, Case Western Reserve University, Franklin and Marshall College and Susquehanna University set about making their campuses more attractive to prospective Jewish applicants.

To make themselves more appealing, the schools have adopted strategies such as creating Jewish studies departments with endowed professorships, setting up Hillel programs and offering kosher meal plans.

Recent events have offered schools that want to attract more Jewish students a simple tool they can use to increase their appeal: adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward anti-Semitic hostility, whether it is in the guise of Jew-hatred, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories or of demonizing, delegitimizing or applying a double standard to Israel (the three Ds of the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism). Treat swastika-incidents with the seriousness they deserve. Stand up firmly and promptly for Jewish students whose qualifications are challenged on the basis of their religion. Sanction faculty who teach anti-Semitism. Feel free to advertise the hospitable climate you maintain for Jewish students. Eventually, they will notice.

The resurgence of anti-Semitism is a sad reality that Jewish students need to face. Hopefully, adding concern about anti-Semitism to the college shopping list will create pressure and incentives for schools tolerating anti-Semitism to clean up their act. Meanwhile, schools that welcome Jews and Jews looking for a welcoming environment have a common interest.

Johanna Markind writes about the Middle East and anti-Semitism for various outlets.

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