With Jewish students attending a wider array of universities than ever before, Hillel convened a panel of experts at its December 2008 Professional Staff Conference to discuss how the organization can work with universities to grow and support their Jewish student populations.
(Left to right) Joe Grinenko, Jeremy Cassius and Michael Schoenfeld participated in the panel.
Duke University Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations Michael J. Schoenfeld emphasized that it is critical for Hillels to work closely with a range of university administrators to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for Jewish students. Hillel professionals should understand the needs and priorities of the universities, he said, so that they can become integrated into the life of the university as a whole and can help advance its agenda. Hillel professionals and university administrators can and should be present and visible at important events on campus and in the community, such as parents’ weekend, prospective freshmen events, and holiday celebrations. They should work together to “remove barriers real or imagined” for Jewish student enrollment. “Be active and creative,” Schoenfeld said, “because if you do nothing, nothing will happen.”
In her six years of work at Virginia Tech, Hillel Director Sue Kurtz has worked extensively to raise the profile of Jewish students on campus. One of her first major successes was a public lecture by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel that was co-sponsored by the university.
Joe Grinenko, the sole Hillel professional at the University of Alabama, is cooperating with the university to reestablish a large Jewish presence at the school. “The university seeks to create a one-to-one relationship with prospective students and that is the approach that I am taking as well,” said Grinenko.
At the University of Oklahoma, Hillel Executive Director Jeremy Cassius is taking the same tack, meeting with prospective freshmen on campus and at recruitment events in the community.
Abby B. Strunk, director of marketing and communications for BBYO, told the group, “It goes without saying that colleges need to keep their finger on the pulse of teen trends in order to effectively market to students and prospective students.” For example, a recent BBYO survey found that today’s teens can customize and personalize every aspect of their lives, from their sneakers, to their talking avatars, to their religion. Over half of the 67 percent of teens who want to better connect to religion in the survey want an unconventional way to do so. In other words, Jewish teens are seeking customized ways to connect to their Judaism through special programming and unique experiences.
The Jewish Community's Guide to Understanding Teens (PDF File 2Mb)
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