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First Poll to Survey ‘Openly Jewish’ College Students Finds 65% Have Felt Unsafe on Campus, and 50% Have Actively Hid Their Jewish Identity

Posted on September 20, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun

The first poll to specifically examine rates of anti-Semitism among college students who claim a strong sense of Jewish identity and connection to Israel finds that, among this group, students are feeling unsafe and, as a result, are learning that to avoid anti-Semitism they must view their religion as something to hide, not celebrate. In fact, the survey indicates that the longer students stay on campus, the less safe they feel and the more they feel the need to hide their identity.

Nearly 70% of the students surveyed personally experienced or were familiar with an anti-Semitic attack in the past 120 days. More than 65% of these students have felt unsafe on campus due to physical or verbal attacks, with one in 10 reporting they have feared they themselves would be physically attacked.  And roughly 50% of students have felt the need to hide their Jewish identity.  

The poll is based on online surveys with more than a thousand members of the leading predominantly Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), and the leading Jewish sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi (AEPhi). More than 60% of the students surveyed belong to Hillel and nearly half to Chabad, more than 80% are supportive of Israel, and nearly 60% have visited Israel.  The survey was conducted Cohen Research Group in conjunction with The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

“These findings ring some pretty consequential alarms, more closely resembling previous dark periods in our history, not the 21st century in the U.S.,” stated Kenneth L. Marcus, former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Civil Rights and Brandeis Center founder and chair. “They reveal that students for whom being Jewish is a central or important aspect of their identity are feeling increasingly unsafe visibly expressing their Judaism for fear of harassment, social bullying and other anti-Semitic attacks. And they expose that increased anti-Semitic acts, which attempt to hold Jews responsible as a collective, for the actions of the Israeli government, are driving more and more students to hide their support for Israel.”

Main Findings:

  • Two-thirds of students experienced or were familiar with anti-Semitic incidents over the past 120 days on campus.

 

  • Fifty percent of AEPi members and 69% AEPhi members personally experienced an anti-Semitic verbal attack. The most common verbal attacks included offensive statements about Jews and the Holocaust, including referring to Jews as “greedy,” “cheap,” or having other negative qualities, assigning all Jews the collective responsibility for actions by Israel, and using pejorative nicknames. Many students experienced being called “untrustworthy” or having too much “political power” over U.S. policymakers and derogatory statements about Jews and Zionism in terms of white supremacy or responsibility for “Nazi” treatment of Palestinians. 

 

  • As many as 10% were aware of physical attacks against Jewish students, and an alarming number have personally experienced a physical attack for being Jewish during the previous 120 days. Sixteen students (2%) were spit on. Fourteen students (2%) were attacked with a weapon. Seven students (1%) were physically attacked. And seven students (1%) were threatened with a weapon. 

 

  • Over 65% of students surveyed reported feeling unsafe as Jews, and the longer they are on campus the less safe they feel. More than three in five AEPi members and more than two in three AEPhi members have not felt safe as Jews on their campuses or in virtual campus settings due to concerns about verbal and physical attacks. Those who felt unsafe stated they are concerned about being verbally attacked (57% AEPi/64% AEPhi), socially excluded (33%/27%) or bullied or harassed (31%/34%); about 20% of seniors fear they will be physically attacked. There is a nearly 20% decline between freshmen and seniors in students who report feeling safe, which indicates the longer Jewish students stay on campus, the less safe they feel. 

 

  • Students surveyed are actively hiding their Jewish identity. Fifty percent of students stated they have hidden their Jewish identity, and more than half avoid expressing their views on Israel.  The percentage of students who hid their Jewish identity also increased with each college year. The longer the students are enrolled, the more they felt the need to hide their identity.

“There is no question that this upwards trajectory will continue until university administrators stop turning a blind eye to anti-Semitic harassment and abuse and excusing it as political disagreements,” said Marcus.  “As students embark on a new school year it is imperative university leaders step up to the plate and take meaningful action or the situation will continue to escalate.”

To stem the rising anti-Semitism, the Brandeis Center recommends universities issue a statement condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, including anti-Zionism; incorporate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism into their discrimination and harassment policies; and provide appropriate training on anti-Semitism to university administrators, faculty, staff and students. 

 



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