As I hope most UConn students have heard by now, there were three reported antisemitic incidents on campus during the holiday of Pesach, or Passover, last week, bringing the total number of incidents to seven in the past year. Since the news broke, it’s been really nice to see all the support for the Jewish community. But, it’s important to also remember that there is still much work to be done. It is also necessary to realize that this is not just a UConn problem or just a problem in the present day. Throughout the U.S., incidents of antisemitism have occurred on a multitude of college campuses, as the lack of serious response leads to even more of an uptick.
The Anti-Defamation League started tracking college antisemitism in 1984, and according to an audit they conducted, the number of instances reported went from four in 1984 to 143 in 1994. Last year alone, that number was approximately 2,100.
Colleges are supposed to be places for ideas to grow, and while that is generally a great thing, hateful ideas come along with this. When universities invite speakers that preach antisemitism or allow antisemitic rhetoric and imagery to prevail, they contribute to this rising trend of hate.
One way the ADL found antisemitism to manifest on campuses is via paid advertisements aiming to deny the Holocaust. These are printed in school publications, and “ads were printed in student newspapers at SUNY-Binghamton (N.Y.), Northeastern University (Mass.), Oberlin College (Ohio), Radford University (Va.), Sacred Heart University (Conn.) and Wittenberg University (Ohio).” To be perfectly candid, it’s disheartening to see all of these schools allowing blatant Holocaust denial to exist on campus. And they cannot use the excuse that all of them were just upholding free speech statutes as any college would, because the ADL also lists Washburn University (Kan.), the University of Massachusetts, North Essex Community College (Mass.), SUNY-Albany (N.Y.), SUNY-Stony Brook (N.Y.) and Williams College (Mass.) as schools that rejected similar advertisements. Holocaust denial is a disgusting act that should never be tolerated in any sense; there is no forum for discussion on whether millions of people were murdered or not. Anyone who tries to create one not only dishonors the victims and their families, but also endangers people in the modern day. What starts as ugly rhetoric can turn into physical violence quickly.
In the same year, a pair of Jewish students at the University of Pennsylvania were shouted at with slurs while walking, then threatened with a shotgun until they ran away. At Southern Illinois University, a student was punched in the face after telling another student not to make antisemitic comments.
A year later, a Jewish activist at the University of Miami was threatened. Someone threatened to blow up her car, and she received repeated verbal harassment both in person and via phone calls after she took part in planning a protest of a Nation of Islam speaker coming to her campus. Later that year, a large menorah was vandalized during Hanukkah.
These are a very small sample of the incidents that have occurred, but they show that what starts as hateful words often manifests into much more. Just last year, the University of Delaware’s Chabad Center was the subject of arson that caused thousands of dollars in damages, though luckily no one was hurt. Over the holiday of Hanukkah, a student at the University of Kentucky was hit by a car while attending a menorah lighting, and the driver drove off yelling antisemitic slurs.
This brings me back to the recent events at UConn. Swastikas and SS logos being painted on buildings are truly frightening imagery, and swift, strong action needs to be taken. It has been less than 40 years since the ADL started tracking antisemitic incidents at colleges, but the dramatic increase from four to 2,100 has only occurred because it has been allowed to blossom. UConn cannot allow itself to be part of the system that perpetuates hatred. In order to stop it a hard public stance needs to be taken; not just by the student body, but also by the decision makers in the administration.
To end on a bright note, I want to give a huge thank you to UConn Hillel and other groups that are working tirelessly to make this community a safe one. Please sign the following petition that has been going around about the recent events to take action against antisemitism.