According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the number of anti-Semitic incidents on U.S. college campuses in 2015 increased to 90, up from 47 in the previous year. And all anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. both in and out of college jumped 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017.
However, in September 2017, Stanford’s Research Group in Education and Jewish Studies released the results of interviews with 66 California students from five state campuses to determine the current landscape in terms of anti-Semitism. None of the students felt the atmosphere was anti-Semitic.
Rabbi Bregman agrees. “The average student does not have a problem with anti-Semitism,” he explains. “In general, not always, the Jewish student in the U.S. is not necessarily outwardly observant by dress and overwhelmingly has not experienced anti-Jewish sentiment.”
Of course, Rabbi Bregman explains, if a person dresses in a traditional Jewish way, such as by wearing a yarmulke, it may increase the chance of coming across someone with an anti-Semitic attitude. But, he adds, “The culture at universities is overwhelmingly liberal and tolerant and a safe space for all people.”
What should a student do if they are discriminated against or mistreated because of religious beliefs? Below, we will examine a student’s religious rights on campus and the procedure for reporting such incidents.
What to do if you experience anti-Semitism on campus
According to the ADL, it’s essential that schools have a zero-tolerance policy concerning anti-Semitism. Depending on the incident, it’s likely that it’s covered by the university’s Equal Opportunity policy. If an incident such as vandalism, graffiti, intimidation or harassment occurs, it’s important to check the student handbook to determine the policy for filing a report under the school’s Non-Discrimination policy. You can also report an incident directly to the U.S. Department of Education.
One key to fighting anti-Semitism on campus is awareness. Stanford’s resolution against anti-Semitism includes the plan to offer anti-Semitism awareness seminars on campus and other similar events.
Your religious rights on campus
Students on college campuses, just as those anywhere else, have the right to free speech, free exercise of religion and freedom of association under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Religious groups have a right to exist on campus as well as a right to equal access to any resources available to other groups, including funding and facilities. Students are also allowed to wear religious clothing, head coverings and symbols at public colleges and universities.
Public colleges and universities also have a legal obligation to prevent students from being discriminated against for observing the High Holidays under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and various state laws. For instance, major assignments and tests should not be held during the High Holidays.
While private institutions do not have the same legal requirements to provide religious accommodations, there are local and state laws that apply instead. However, students are obligated to review and follow their school’s policy for requesting an accommodation for religious purposes, discussing it with professors or instructors in advance.