September 15, 2022

Hillel Working to Ensure Jewish Students Feel Safe on College Campuses

We have seen an unprecedented rise in antisemitism. A particularly alarming statistic is that antisemitic incidents on American college campuses have tripled in the last five years. With the new academic year now under way, Greater MetroWest Hillel is in full swing combatting antisemitism on campuses in our community and being at the ready to help students who fall victim to it.  

Hillel International is the largest Jewish student organization in the world, working at colleges and universities to enrich the lives of Jewish students by offering support and resources, facilitating connections, and encouraging a sense of community and Jewish identity. Hillel of Greater MetroWest (Hillel GMW) was founded a few years ago to provide these services to students on the smaller campuses here in New Jersey: Montclair State University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Seton Hall University, Fairleigh Dickinson University (Florham), Kean University, and Rutgers University (Newark). 

A survey conducted for Hillel International and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that one in three students (32 percent) personally experienced antisemitic hate in American tertiary education in 2021, the most common incidents being offensive comments online or in person and damage and defacement of property. And that 79 percent of that 32 percent reported direct antisemitic hate occurring more than once, while 31 percent of Jewish students witnessed antisemitic activity directed to other people. Clearly, it is a very present threat for Jewish students.   

“A large part of our role as Hillel professionals is to work with campus professionals, Jewish communal and higher education leaders, anti-hate organizations, and of course students to address antisemitic activity through a variety of initiatives and programs,” said Rebekah Adelson, Director of Hillel GMW. “We believe that the more we educate all parties on campus, the less antisemitism will be tolerated.”  

Such education can be found in Hillel’s Campus Climate Initiative, where higher education administrators are encouraged to build awareness around antisemitism and incite action against hate and bias on campus. Hillel also develops training on countering antisemitism, looking at its history as well as present day manifestations, so staff and students feel equipped to identify and respond to antisemitic activity as well as educate others about it.  

“It’s particularly important to give students a platform on which to make their voices heard and speak up against hate and antisemitism,” Adelson added. In October of last year, Hillel International launched the #OwnYourStar social media campaign to counter hate with Jewish pride. Students were encouraged to talk about what the Star of David or other Jewish symbols means to them on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. This incredible initiative has moved beyond students, with Jews of all walks of life posting on social media, including The Big Bang Theory star, Mayim Bialik.  

To ensure that students obtain immediate support following an antisemitic incident, Hillel, together with the ADL and the Secure Community Network have launched, an online portal that allows Jewish students and allies to report antisemitic incidents on college campuses. These reports are reviewed by trained security professionals, who connects these students with Hillel who then addresses the issue with university administrators and potentially law enforcement. Victims are also connected to wellness services. This service also allows for antisemitic incidents at campuses to be tracked in a centralized database. 

Adelson summed it up, “Through education and empowerment, Hillel is working at all levels to combat antisemitism and ensure that our Jewish college students feel secure both on campus and on social media.”