With increased reports of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the United States, Jewish people need spaces where they feel safe and their voices can be heard. Jewish students at Ithaca College are unfortunately not immune to anti-Semitism. The Jewish Student Union, or JSU, is a space where Jewish students can discuss common issues and unite over shared experiences.
JSU started in July in response to a rise in anti-Semitism at the college and around the world. The Anti-Defamation League identified 2,107 anti-Semitic incidents across the country in 2019, a 12% increase from the previous year. Hillel International found that 178 anti-Semitic incidents occurred on college campuses during the 2019–20 academic year. This is an all-time high, despite the fact that most campuses were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though there are other organizations for Jewish students on campus, including Hillel at Ithaca College and Chabad of Ithaca College, it is noteworthy that JSU is a student-led organization. Especially in times of social and political divide, it is empowering that students are leading discussions and forming a community of their own accord.
However, there needs to be a shift in culture on the college’s campus. While affinity clubs like JSU are important, they will not have a wide-reaching impact if they are operating in their own bubble. One of JSU’s main goals is to raise awareness of anti-Semitic issues for both Jewish and non-Jewish students on campus. Non-Jewish people need to engage with the club as well, whether that be through its Zoom meetings or future programming. This same logic applies to other affinity groups as well. As a whole, college community members should be interacting and learning about those who are different from them. A mutual understanding of each other’s backgrounds is critical and can be achieved by engaging with each other.
Even though JSU is a new organization, it is already raising a critical issue about the lack of support for Jewish students from the administration. It was only after Jewish on Campus — an Instagram page that collects anonymous anecdotes from Jewish college students about anti-Semitism — made posts about Ithaca College did administrators from the college publicly acknowledge the incident. Why must the college be called out in a public forum for it to recognize that campus is not a safe and inclusive space for all?
Anti-Semitism on campus is not new. For years, there have been cases of aggravated harassment and other crimes using discriminatory speech or symbols at the college. Student-led organizations are a good first step to improving inclusion on campus, but, again, students are always the ones who have to take matters into their own hands.