The University of Connecticut’s President Thomas Katsouleas responded to multiple acts of anti-Semitism that occurred at South Campus recently.
In an email shared with the UConn community on Oct. 30, Katsouleas denounced acts of violence, hate and intimidation against the members of UConn’s Jewish community.
“These recent reports were all acts of physical damage to property, including swastika graffiti,” Katsouleas said in his email. “These are undeniable symbols of anti-Semitism that elicit painful reminders of the Holocaust among our Jewish students, faculty and staff.”
UConn staff have been actively working with UConn Hillel to help address the community, the email said.
“These acts of hatred have no home on our campus, and we will continue to work to support the members of our community, particularly UConn Huskies of the Jewish faith who have been directly impacted,” Katsouleas said.
Dori Jacobs, a fifth-semester psychology and applied mathematics major, and student board president at Hillel, said she is appalled by how long it took for Katsouleas to denounce anti-Semitism.
“A week after the first incident, I emailed him to express the concerns of the Jewish community on campus,” Jacobs said. “And that acts of anti-Semitism often start small, but quickly spiral into large trends of hate.”
After Jacobs’ initial email to Katsouleas, the two continued correspondence about the biased incident.
“I implored that the silence of him, the Dean of Students and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion was only empowering students who may commit acts of anti-Semitism, whether out of malice or ignorance,” Jacobs said. “We continued to correspond for two weeks, over which two more incidents of anti-Semitism occurred, and still he did not release a statement addressing the entire student body that acknowledged these incidents or condemned anti-Semitism.”
On Oct. 16, Katsouleas tweeted about the racist incidents from his personal account, which reached very few students and felt wholly inadequate to address the pain and fear of Jewish students, Jacobs said.
“After the third anti-Semitic incident in South Campus occurred, I contact him once again with the same demand of a statement that informed all students of these incidents and condemned anti-Semitism, as well as with a letter circulated by UConn Hillel – signed by over 300 students and alumni in just three days demanding the same,” Jacobs said. “It was then that he said a draft of a statement was being written to be released soon. The statement itself is a great step in the right direction, but it lacked timeliness that would have made Jewish students feel heard and supported.”
Jacqui Schulefand, Hillel’s director of engagement and programs, said the response from Katsouleas needed to be immediate, strong and without hesitation.
“While we are very appreciative of their response, I think one of the things we were looking for was an immediate statement from the president denouncing these acts of anti-Semitism and hatred and it was really not forthcoming,” Schulefand said. “He did eventually post something on his own Twitter account not the UConn Twitter account, which is really what we were looking for. So, he did eventually send something to the community, but it took a lot of prodding and a lot of communication from our student board president in which he finally did respond to the incident.”
“While we are very appreciative of their response, I think one of the things we were looking for was an immediate statement from the president denouncing these acts of anti-Semitism and hatred and it was really not forthcoming,”
The South Campus hall directors responded quickly and have been extremely supportive of the affected students, Schulefand said.
“The residence hall directors have been very supportive. We met right away with the community and had an event where students from South Campus who were affected, were invited,” Schulefand said. “Unfortunately, the only students that came were Hillel student leaders and some of the RAs from the dorm, but we focused on ways to educate the community which is what we really want to do.”
Matan Doron, fifth-semester biological science and individualized science, medicine and ethics major, said the timeliness of UConn’s response was not adequate.
“I believe [President Katsouleas] gave a full-throated and powerful condemnation of the anti-Semitic incidents, but I do think he waited too long to respond,” Doron said. “The time it did take to respond to these events, I believe, diluted the impactfulness and cheapened the sincerity of their response.”
Doron said UConn has a long way to go in order to make sure students of all faith and cultural backgrounds feel heard and welcome.
“It’s tempting to be scared, but anti-Semitism has always existed, and this is how it has come to UConn,” Doron said. “The best we can do is keep an open mind, live our truth and identity proudly and stay committed to telling our story while also listening deeply to the experiences of individuals from different backgrounds.”
Doron said students can support the UConn Jewish community by taking a pause and listening to the stories that need to be heard.
“Misconceptions about Jews and Judaism exist because too often our story is overlooked or marked insignificant,” Doron said. “We are a very diverse community that have consistently experienced hate and injustice for as long as history has been recorded. I think recognizing that we are a distinct community, with our own songs, stories and history.”
Jacobs said education is the most important aspect of supporting the Jewish community.
“We need to educate ourselves on the history of discrimination against people based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, and religion, but education on anti-Semitism cannot be missing from that,” Jacobs said. “I think a large portion of non-Jewish Americans lack knowledge of both the historical suffering of the Jewish people and the present-day acts of anti-Semitism that are far too common.”
Hillel is currently working with the Dean of Students and ResLife to create an event that features a panel of Jewish and non-Jewish students to talk about anti-Semitism, Jacobs said.
“During the South Campus community meeting, several students felt that hearing from peers that were affected themselves made them conscious of the impact of anti-Semitism,” Jacobs said. “This event will make anti-Semitic incidents like those that occurred in South Campus feel personal and hopefully elicit empathy from students who were previously uneducated about anti-Semitism.”
The event is yet to have a set date, but more information will be made available soon, Jacobs said.
“I am hopeful that this event will change the perspective of many students on campus by showing them the impact of anti-Semitism on the lives of their peers,” Jacobs said. “If students leave with empathy and education, they will hopefully go from bystanders to upstanders and call out anti-Semitism when they witness it. The administration also said they want this event to be the first of many efforts to combat anti-Semitism on campus, which I am greatly appreciative of.”