Hillel's Climate Initiative Takes Aim at Anti-Semitism
Atlanta Jewish Times, January 28, 2022
The term “climate” isn’t limited to global warming. On college campuses, the term has come to describe the cultural environment or climate of attitudes, ideas and actions — especially when it comes to diversity of opinion.
“One of Hillels of Georgia’s priorities is ensuring that Jewish students on our 20 campuses across the state are able to proudly express their Jewishness and support for Israel free from antisemitism and anti-Israel hatred,” said Hillels of Georgia CEO Elliot B. Karp.
Now, Kennesaw State University (KSU) and Hillels of Georgia have announced that they will participate in Hillel International’s Campus Climate Initiative (CCI) cohort for the 2021-2022 academic year, where they will receive guidance and training on how to push back against anti-Semitism on campuses.
Mark Rotenberg, the vice president for University Initiatives & Legal Affairs at Hillel International who developed and oversees the climate initiative, said, “CCI was formed to help universities understand that their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion for all students must also include a focus on how anti-Semitism affects Jewish students.”
According to Rotenberg, Hillel International didn’t keep track of anti-Semitic incidents until 2013, when it recorded 27 such incidents. In 2021, when most campuses were closed due to COVID-19, Rotenberg said, “we recorded over 235 incidents from Hillel’s field staff and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL),” which works with Hillel to coordinate canvassing and reporting efforts.
In light of this spike in numbers, Hillel determined that it could not leave its thousands of field professionals and students across 550+ campuses worldwide to fend for themselves. The organization decided to partner with administrators to maintain a positive campus climate.
Valerie Chambers, the Hillel director at KSU, said that “Kennesaw State University is a very diverse and open campus with more than 42,000 students. We believe there are nearly 600 Jewish students at KSU and are very fortunate that many are active in Hillel activities, including nine who serve on our Hillel Student Board. Our students, for the most part, feel safe and openly express their Jewish identities while on campus. The University administration is also very supportive of Jewish students and Hillel. They are tremendous partners helping to ensure that anti-Semitism is kept in check. Nonetheless, when there are issues, especially microaggressions, they are prepared to work with Hillel and our students to combat anti-Semitism and educate the entire campus community.”
She went on to say that President Kathy Schwaig, Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Eric Arneson and their entire administration is receptive to the Campus Climate Initiative.
Elliot B. Karp is CEO of Hillels of Georgia.
“We are striving to create a campus community where every student has a voice and a place on our campus,” Arneson told the AJT. “The CCI presents an opportunity to better understand and appreciate the challenges our Jewish students face and gain their perspective on how to make our campus more inclusive.” He noted that CCI represented an extension of the strong relationship KSU has with Hillels of Georgia, which “has helped us support and learn from Hillel on how to best serve our Jewish students.
“The CCI program dovetails perfectly into our action plan around the President’s Task Force on Race. The learning from the CCI program can be a useful tool in training and education of our campus community. We also plan to continue our strong relationship with Hillel to partner on programming and educating the community on all issues around preventing and responding to intolerance in any form.”
Avital Shimon, the president of KSU Hillel’s board, says she feels proud to be Jewish at the university. “I’ve never felt like I have had to hide who I am or be ashamed of it. I have actually been able to grow my Jewish network, take on leadership positions and make others feel proud to be Jewish,” she said. Personally, she says, she has not experienced any forms of anti-Semitism on campus, where students are proud to wear Jewish symbols and to come together for things like Bagel Break and Shabbat. “Hillel gives students the opportunity to embrace being Jewish and gives them the comfort of having a second home.”
The CCI Cohort program for KSU administrators is one way to ensure that students like Shimon continue to feel safe on campus.
Rotenberg wants to see other Georgia universities like Emory, UGA and Georgia Tech follow suit and join the next CCI cohort. The goal, he says, is for these schools to adopt a DEI agenda where “Jewish students can be proud and feel comfortable wearing a T-shirt with an Israel motif or feel safe having a mezuzah affixed to one’s door.”
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