We need to talk about antisemitism on college campuses

Oscar Nobel

Last winter, an antisemitic and racist flyer was found in the section of Saywer dedicated to the history of Nazi Germany. Though this incident was reported on in the Record and addressed by the College, it didn’t take long for the student body to move on.

I want to make one thing very clear: This was not an isolated incident. Antisemitic behavior at the College is more common than you might expect.

I have heard from Jewish students about faculty at the College not respecting Jewish holidays. I have heard about classes that displayed antisemitic imagery without addressing the meaning behind it. I have heard about microaggressions that Jewish students have faced, including accusations that they don’t “look Jewish.” Speaking from personal experience, as a first-year people in the Mission lobby laughed at me while I was wearing a kippah on my way to Shabbat services. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I know for a fact that there are other Jewish students at the College who could add to it.

These incidents are not unique to the College. Higher education institutions across the country have had their own share of antisemitic incidents as well.

At Cornell University, an image comparing Judaism to Naziism was displayed on a sidewalk. On Indiana University Bloomington’s campus, someone’s mezuzah (a decorative case containing significant Jewish texts that gets displayed on the front doorpost of Jewish homes) was “ripped off the doorway and partially burned.” A truck was seen driving through UC Berkeley’s campus displaying an image of Adolf Hitler performing a Nazi salute with the caption “all in favor of banning Jews, raise your right hand.” A student at Pennsylvania State University reported that a professor said, “we should look to Nazis as an example for society.” White supremacist recruitment stickers were posted on SUNY Oneonta’s campus during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Swastika graffiti was found on the Ithaca College campus twice in one week. One day later, swastika graffiti was also found on UC Davis’s campus.

All of these incidents occurred within the past two months, and this list does not even paint a complete picture of all the reported incidents in that timeframe.

The rise of antisemitism on college campuses is in many ways part of a larger national trend. In 2021, antisemitic incidents in the United States reached a record high of 2,717 reported incidents, a 34-percent increase from the year before, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). And on college campuses, a 2021 ADL-Hillel Campus Antisemitism Survey found as many as 43 percent of Jewish college students either witnessed or personally experienced an antisemitic incident.

The ADL-Hillel survey also found that approximately three quarters of respondents who experienced an antisemitic incident did not report it. There are two main reasons behind this lack of reporting: The first is that students may not know how to submit a report — 41 percent of survey respondents stated they “did not know how to report an antisemitic incident when it occurs” — and the second is that students may be dissuaded from submitting a report due to fear of it not being taken seriously. Every student at every school should have the resources available to report a bias incident, and the fact that so many students do not demonstrates that colleges are failing to prioritize this essential service.

There are many ways to report bias incidents at the College. You can submit an incident report to the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The chaplain’s office, the dean’s office, and the Davis Center are also available to all students who need guidance when deciding how to respond to an incident or need support after experiencing one.

At the College, I am more concerned with the second reason behind the lack of reporting antisemitic incidents: Jewish students worry their reports won’t be taken seriously.

This was why I did not submit a report for the antisemitic incident I experienced last year. I have talked to Jewish students who said they were afraid of backlash when debating whether or not to report a bias incident they experienced. Further, most of the antisemitic incidents that occurred on college campuses referenced in this piece were originally reported anonymously, speaking to this fear of antisemitism reports not being taken seriously.

Antisemitism on college campuses is far more multifaceted than could possibly be explored in a single op-ed. Negative attitudes towards Jews have existed for millennia and come in a multitude of forms. My goal is not to describe what all those forms are and examine how they are seen on college campuses; I simply want to highlight the existence and severity of this issue and start a dialogue. The more we normalize conversations on this topic, the more people will be willing to share their experiences and the more people will see the need to address antisemitism on college campuses.

Nobody should be afraid to speak out when they feel isolated, alienated, or otherwise marginalized. Jewish students are no exception.

Oscar Nobel ’25 is from Brooklyn, N.Y.