The concerning rise of antisemitism on college campuses


Photo courtesy of Jeenah Moon via Getty Images

Arianna Heyman , Editor-in-Chief

There is a concerning trend that has become more prominent on college campuses across America. Within the last five years, antisemitic incidents have skyrocketed, causing Jewish students to be increasingly fearful for their physical safety and psychological security. 

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), within the last year, nearly one-third of all Jewish college students experienced antisemitism directed at them on campus or by a member of the campus community.

“Jewish students are facing more antisemitism and hate on college campuses than we previously thought,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO and national director said. “We need to ensure that every Jewish student feels safe and empowered to express their Jewish values and their whole selves when they are in the classroom, residence halls and throughout campus life.”

The ADL also found antisemitic incidents peaked during the 2020-2021 academic year, reaching an all-time high of 244 incidents

The explanation for the recent spike in incidents is due to a variety of factors, according to Michael Pytlik, professor and director of Judaic studies at Oakland University (OU).

Pytlik says one component that he has noticed, even with his own students, is lack of historical education — specifically about the Holocaust.

“What I have for sure noticed over the last five to ten years is that when newer students are coming in, they report they don’t really know anything at all or remember anything at all being taught about the Holocaust,” he says. “This is one thing I’m concerned about — there’s just a general less knowledge about it, and I think this is very interesting when we look at the nationwide situation on other campuses.”

Another factor which contributes to this problem is the misunderstanding of the complicated geopolitics of Israel and Palestinian territories. The general lack of knowledge on this complicated issue has caused a rise in antisemitic incidents on campuses across the country. 

The ADL reported that “15% of Jewish college students reported that they felt the need to hide their Jewish identity from others on campus, and 12% said they had been blamed for the actions of the Israel government because they are Jewish.”

“(People) tend to think that if Israel has conflicts internally, which it does, that this means that they are somehow going to ‘take over,’” Pytlik says. “I don’t understand what they’re supposed to be ‘taking over,’ but they lump all kinds of different things together, and it ends up being this misunderstanding.”

The election of former President Donald Trump certainly contributed to the rise of these incidents. In Nov. 2017, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee met to discuss the concerning rise of antisemitism on campuses from 2016-2017. 

In his testimony to the committee, Greenblatt relayed data gathered from the ADL in the first 10 months of 2017. 

“We have seen real cases of antisemitism surge at colleges and university,” Greenblatt said. “Our audit documented 118 such antisemitic incidences this year (2017), compared to only 74 in the same period last year (2016) – that is nearly a 60 percent increase.”

Pytlik believes there is an undeniable correlation between the rise of radical politics and politicians within the last five years and the uptick in antisemitic incidents.

“When we have so-called political leaders who are voicing these things outright, it’s not even failed anymore — it’s right out there,” Pytlik says. […] People who generally had maybe had these ideas but were afraid to share them — now they feel more justified to speak out.”

Pytlik believes combating this issue starts with education. He is an advisor to OU’s Jewish Student Organization and says the club is working to educate others on Jewish history and events.

“We work together to try to educate and try to bring a number of events to school to demystify the ideas about Jewish culture, Jewish holidays or topics about Israel,” he said.

In addition to offering educational opportunities, it is also important that colleges are continually informed of incidents occurring on other campuses in order to better protect their own students.

At OU, Glenn McIntosh, senior vice president for student affairs and chief diversity officer, said he monitors trends on campuses locally, statewide and nationally. 

“We always try to do programming and support our faculty, staff and students who do programming around those types of issues to create awareness,” McIntosh says. “Also, (promoting) awareness of the reporting mechanisms that are available on campus such as the Dean of Students Office, myself, reporting support — the online portal to report any type of incidents — and of course the police department. We’re always trying to make people aware of how to report any type of incident like that.”

McIntosh says in order to protect Jewish students on campus and ensure further incidents do not occur, quick action is necessary.

“When we as communities see that someone steps outside of that expectation box, we react and people report it and then we address those kinds of issues very quickly,” he says. “In our minds, there is zero tolerance for that kind of behavior.”