Campus leaders react to growing antisemitic vandalism, harassment


University of Denver officials launched an investigation last month into reports of antisemitic vandalism, in one of the latest examples of what is considered a growing number of cases involving antisemitism on college campuses. 

According to news reports, pork products, which are prohibited for those who follow kosher dietary laws, were allegedly glued to a student’s dorm room door, and mezuzahs — a symbol of Judaism — were taken down from doorways and defiled on three occasions. 

The university, in a Feb. 14 letter to students, denounced the acts and committed to “promoting a warm, welcoming campus in which all community members can thrive.” And in an emailed statement to Higher Ed Dive last week, Jon Stone, media relations manager, said the university “worked closely” with Jewish student life groups and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to provide programming around antisemitism to the campus community, among other actions.

The University of Denver is not alone. In recent years, higher education administrators across the U.S. have had to respond to a wave of antisemitic incidents.

Although the Anti-Defamation League does not consider Jewish students at a higher risk of violence than in the past, data shows they are more likely to encounter an antisemitic incident on campus today than five years ago, said Elissa Buxbaum, ADL’s director of campus affairs.

How to combat

To counter this, Buxbaum said, college leaders can integrate messaging around antisemitism and Jewish identity into education initiatives, diversity, equity and inclusion plans, websites, and alumni and department newsletters. Administrators can also train employees on how to respond to bias incidents and ensure the institution is fully inclusive. 

“Antisemitism can dramatically affect a student’s college experience,” said Buxbaum. “It only takes one act of antisemitism against a college community to make all Jewish students at that campus feel unsafe or unwelcome.”

In addition, these acts can make students feel “unsupported by their campus community,” according to Sandy Grawert, a spokesperson for Jewish campus organization Hillel International. 

But, as college leaders try to protect their Jewish students, one campus antisemitism expert said they also need to weigh whether their actions will affect the free speech rights of other students. 

Some Jewish students whose religious identity is closely tied to Israel may feel excluded by groups like Students for Justice of Palestine or Jewish Voice for Peace, said Kenneth Stern, director of Center for the Study of Hate at Bard College, in New York. Those groups often protest actions by Israel against Palestinians or launch boycott and divestment campaigns against Israel, and sometimes may exclude students who identify as Zionists from “progressive spaces.” 

In 2021, two student groups at the University of Vermont, for instance, allegedly excluded students who expressed support for Zionism from membership. And recently, the University of California, Berkeley student group Law Students for Justice in Palestine created a bylaw that banned people who supported Zionism from speaking at their events. 

Such actions could make some students feel as if they were being discriminated against because of their Judaism, said Stern, who wrote the book, “The Conflict over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate.” 

“It hurts, but you’re not going to stop people from having political disagreements about hot button issues.”

Incidents on the rise

In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League tallied 155 antisemitic incidents at over 100 U.S. college campuses. That represented a 21% increase from the 128 incidents recorded in 2020, Buxbaum said.

Of the incidents in 2021, 87 involved harassment, 64 included vandalism, and four were assaults. References to Israel or Zionism were made in 15% of the instances. The audit counted cases involving anti-Jewish animus, such as slurs or conspiracy theories demonizing Jews as a group for real or perceived support of Israel, she said. 

For instance, Buxbaum said, mezuzahs affixed to doors in residence halls were desecrated, and anti-Jewish epithets like “kike” or messages such as “Heil Hitler” were found scrawled in academic buildings and dorms. 

Over 30% of the campus incidents included Nazi swastikas, at times with threatening messages targeting Jewish students, according to an ADL report


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