WASHINGTON — As incidents of antisemitism continue to increase at colleges and universities even in the current socially distant environment, Hillel International, the global Jewish student organization, is launching a new initiative to ensure that university administrators and staff are trained to recognize and confront antisemitism that too often impacts their students. The Hillel International Campus Climate Initiative (CCI) will work with administrators to provide measurement tools, best practices, education, and training designed to empower university leadership to understand the threats of antisemitism, take proactive steps to minimize them, and directly address them when they occur.
The new initiative comes amid an alarming rise in antisemitic incidents on college campuses. Hillel measured 178 antisemitic incidents this past academic year on the North American campuses it serves, an all-time high, even with months of campuses being physically closed due to COVID-19. Online harassment of Jewish students and antisemitic vandalism has continued in recent months, even with campuses closed. This dangerous trend has been surging for several years. The Anti-Defamation League has reported that antisemitic hate crimes and bias incidents on college campuses more than tripled from 2012 through 2019. Government data shows that religious-based hate crimes on college campuses roughly doubled between 2009 and 2017; a majority of these reported crimes targeted Jews.
“All Jewish college students have the right to study in a safe, welcoming environment free of harassment,” said Adam Lehman, president and CEO of Hillel International. “Hillel is uniquely positioned to partner with colleges and universities to develop tools to prevent antisemitism on campus and help empower university administrators to respond decisively and aggressively when issues of antisemitism unfortunately arise.”
The initiative will be led by Mark Rotenberg, Hillel International’s vice president for university initiatives and legal affairs, who spent most of his professional career on university campuses as the general counsel at the University of Minnesota and at Johns Hopkins University. Rebecca Russo, who recently returned to Hillel from Interfaith Youth Core, where she consulted for university administrators on religious diversity issues, will serve as executive director of the Campus Climate Initiative.
“We know college administrators want to eliminate antisemitism from their campus environments, but many are seeking better training and educational tools to do so,” Rotenberg said. “Through the Campus Climate Initiative, our Hillel professionals will work with campus administrators to adopt curriculum and best practices to recognize and proactively address these threats to create a campus climate where all students feel safe. CCI will also help local Hillels and university administrators respond appropriately to antisemitic incidents when they occur.”
Hillel’s CCI will fit within an overarching diversity, equity, and inclusion commitment already shared by universities to confront racism, discrimination, and harassment on their campuses and maintain positive campus climates that allow students to feel comfortable engaging and identifying with Judaism and Israel. “I look forward to working with campus administrators to create positive campus climates for Jewish students, as we also build partnerships within higher education to improve the campus climate for all,” Russo said.
In addition to working closely with a cohort of pilot-program campuses, the Campus Climate Initiative will use digital and online collaboration techniques to extend those successes broadly across a much larger field of college leaders, helping them create and refine best-practice policies and procedures customized to their unique campus cultures and environments. CCI will also showcase its expertise by bringing together university and Jewish community leaders for national conferences and forums focusing on these issues.
For more information about the Campus Climate Initiative visit hillel.org.
About Hillel International
Founded in 1923, Hillel has been enriching the lives of Jewish students for more than 90 years. Today, Hillel International is a global organization that welcomes students of all backgrounds and fosters an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. Hillel is dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. As the largest Jewish student organization in the world, Hillel builds connections with emerging adults at more than 550 colleges and universities and inspires them to direct their own path. During their formative college years, students are challenged to explore, experience and create vibrant Jewish lives.