University of Connecticut students are taking a stand against a recent spike of antisemitic bias incidents at the Storrs campus.
Over the course of this academic year, seven bias incidents on the Storrs campus have involved the use of the swastika as a hate symbol or other targeting of the Jewish identity. Three of these incidents took place over the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Sarah Soucy is an eighth-semester allied health sciences major and UConn Hillel intern. After antisemitic graffiti was found spray painted on the outside of the Austin Building on March 30, Soucy took to Instagram to express her feelings about the incidents.
“My name is Sarah Soucy. I am a senior at the University of Connecticut. Right now I do not feel safe on my college campus because of my Jewish identity,” Soucy said. “This is the time for immediate, transparent, and concrete action.”
Mitch Kuperstein, an eighth-semester physiology and neurobiology major and Hillel member, expressed similar feelings. Kuperstein explained the recent incidents have caused many Jewish students to fear for their safety on campus.
“I was watching the UConn game at Hillel just after the spray painting,” Kuperstein said. “We had to have the cops parked outside. It’s sad that we had to get to this point where there has to be cops monitoring around Hillel because it’s not safe.”
For Kuperstein, the bias incidents represented the accumulation of a lifetime of antisemitic experiences.
“I remember when I was in high school, I had kids draw swastikas on my notebook and when I made a comment about it, it was like, ‘you’re no fun Mitch, it’s just a joke’,” Kuperstein said. “When I go into a bathroom stall at the University of Connecticut and I see a swastika drawn on the door, it’s incredibly disrespectful. Whether the intent was to cause harm or just because whoever drew it thought it was funny, it hurts. It hurts all the same.”
These events inspired Kuperstein to begin a petition for the university to hold a one-credit pop-up course on antisemitism in the fall semester. Kuperstein credited Avinoam Patt, the Chair of Judaic Studies department and the Director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, for helping with the development of the idea.
At time of publishing, Kuperstein’s petition had hundreds of signatures. The Jewish Federations of Greater New Haven, Greater Hartford and Western Connecticut have pledged $4000 to help develop the course.
These events also inspired Dori Jacobs, an eighth-semester psychology major and the president of UConn Hillel, to action. Jacobs was one of the organizers for the Solidarity Gathering to Fight Antisemitism, which occurred on April 5.
“After the seventh antisemitic incident this year, students really wanted to do something,” Jacobs said. “I hope that it gets the attention of the UConn administration and helps bring them to action, and also helps change the culture on campus and hold our peers accountable.”
Jacobs said UConn Hillel is working with the Undergraduate Student Government on combating antisemitism on campus.
Fourth-semester political science major and USG Chief Diversity Officer Michael Christy first heard about the bias incidents through UConn Hillel’s Instagram page.
“We have the resources and opportunities to be proactive in these situations yet as a community we have lacked the to use them,” Christy wrote in an email to The Daily Campus. “We need to do better in showing communities such as the Jewish community that we stand with them and intend to work alongside them to eradicate this type of behavior.”
USG released an official statement on March 31, requesting the university administration to take action about antisemitism by April 9.
According to university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz, the university administration has committed to fighting antisemitism on campus.
“Combatting bias and bigotry is a priority of the University and its students, and we believe the best plans come from collaborating and gathering ideas from throughout the community,” Reitz wrote in an email to The Daily Campus. “The Office for Diversity and Inclusion and others are connecting with USG to have these discussions and to set the path forward together.”
“COMBATTING BIAS AND BIGOTRY IS A PRIORITY OF THE UNIVERSITY AND ITS STUDENTS, AND WE BELIEVE THE BEST PLANS COME FROM COLLABORATING AND GATHERING IDEAS FROM THROUGHOUT THE COMMUNITY,”
In an email after April 9, Christy said the university, USG and UConn Hillel were coordinating to combat antisemitism.
“The administration has shown a willingness to work with students and stop this behavior from existing within the UConn community,” Christy said. “USG leadership is also working in lockstep with UConn Hillel and have already met with them to talk about our own ways USG can improve its reactive response to these incidents, and create proactive measures to stop these incidents from occurring.”
But, some students have criticized university administration for not taking action on the antisemitic incidents until this point.
“This academic year, we have seen seven reported instances of antisemitism on this campus alone. Only two of those instances received public acknowledgement by the university administration, and one of those acknowledgements came after days of petitioning for the university to call swastikas and vandalism ‘antisemitic’ because they refused to do so for days on end,” Soucy said in the Instagram video.
Jacobs expressed similar frustrations about the university’s response to a bias incident which occurred in the fall semester. After two antisemitic bias incidents in South Hall on Oct. 6 and Oct. 10, the university did not send an email to the full UConn community until Oct. 30. According to Jacobs, this email was at the behest of some Jewish students on campus.
“I think it upset Jewish students a lot. It has upset students of color and other marginalized groups in the past that sometimes students have to ask the university to do something to help them with these problems instead of the university stepping up with those protections and that solidarity on their own,” Jacobs said.
Reitz did not discuss the October incidents in particular, but said the university may refrain from commenting on incidents associated with an ongoing investigation.
“In many cases, University offices might have information from other students, reviews of technology, or other methods that are part of active investigations of the incidents. However, we can’t discuss those specifics publicly because it could have the unintended effect of tipping off the perpetrators and hampering those investigations,” Reitz said in email.
Beginning this year, the Dean of Students’ Office has begun to release a publicly available list of each bias incident and its university response.
For Jacobs, and many other students, there’s hope that these incidents may galvanize the campus to action against antisemitism.
“I think it’s really important not just to be reactive and do things once these incidents already occur,” Jacobs said.
“These people should be held accountable, but that won’t prevent this from happening in the future. I think we need to be proactive.”