Top Five Moments from the Campus Climate Initiative’s Annual Retreat



February 29, 2024

This week, Case Western Reserve University and John Carroll University co-hosted the second annual retreat for members of the Campus Climate Initiative (CCI), a collaboration between Hillel International, higher education administrators, and campus-based Hillel professionals aimed at ensuring a positive, safe campus experience for Jewish students. From the opening remarks, featuring a conversation between Case Western Reserve University President Eric Kaler and John Carroll University President Alan Miciak, to the closing event at John Carroll’s famous clock tower, the retreat offered participants, who represented 32 schools, a chance to connect, learn, and deepen their understanding of their students’ needs at this critical time.

The CCI cohort experience provides college and university administrators the opportunity to deeply explore topics like campus antisemitism, the needs of Jewish students, and the diversity of the Jewish experience, and to create meaningful action plans in community with their peers. This retreat included incredible workshops, speakers, and conversations — here are our top five highlight moments.

1. Speakers Gave Powerful Keynotes

Monday morning’s plenary began with remarks from Adam Lehman, president and CEO of Hillel International. He thanked the attendees for showing up for their students during this critical moment post-October 7 and in the face of rising antisemitism. 

“Now more than ever, Jewish students need administrations that see them, that understand their experiences on campus, and work to afford them the same safe and supportive learning environment we and you want for all students,” he said. “You are telling Jewish students they are not alone.”

On Monday evening, Campus Climate Initiative Executive Director Lisa Armony echoed that gratitude and emphasized the importance of the cohort community of practice. 

“You are here, in this shared space, with partners who want to support you and colleagues from around the country, who, like you, are taking important steps to improve the climate for Jewish students,” she said. “You are not alone.”

After a morning of panels and plenaries, Tuesday’s lunchtime event featured Catherine Lhamon, the former assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education. Lhamon spoke about acts of antisemitism on campuses, and emphasized that universities can uphold a student’s right to free speech and take action under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which protects students from discrimination. She also answered students’ most pressing questions about campus diversity, antisemitism, and the role of the Education Department in standing up for Jewish students everywhere.

2. Students Spoke to Share Campus Antisemitism Trends

The Campus Climate Initiative’s goal is to work with college and university administrators to fully and meaningfully address antisemitism on campus and  positive experiences for students, and the retreat would have been incomplete without a couple of those critical voices. On Monday night, Jewish students from Case Western Reserve University and John Carroll University  shared their impressions of antisemitism on their campuses and what they need most from their administrators and Hillel professionals. 

3. “Tuesday Night Shabbat” Dinner at Temple Tifereth Israel

CCI participants come from all backgrounds and walks of life, and bring a wide range of experience and understanding of Jewish culture and tradition. To give administrators a taste of Jewish tradition, Tuesday night’s dinner was a mock Hillel Shabbat held at Temple Tifereth Israel. After dinner, participants walked the short distance to the nearby Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage for dessert, followed by a tour celebrating the history of the Jewish community of Greater Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.

4. Ohio State Representative Terrence Upchurch Shared an Israel Experience — and Offered Words of Support

Representative Terrence Upchurch has been a staunch supporter of Israel and the Ohio Jewish community throughout his time in office. During Tuesday’s dinner, he spoke with attendees about the trip to Israel he took before October 7, how it impacted him, and why he’s determined to keep students Jewish safe — on campus and off.

5.  Tower Time at John Carroll University Brought the Community Together

“Tower Time” began at John Carroll University in Fall 2021, stemming from a desire to strengthen the university’s core values of community and belonging. Each Wednesday during the academic year, faculty, staff, and students take a break from their daily routines to gather together, enjoying conversation and community events. As part of the CCI retreat’s closing event, participants got to experience a special Tower Time together at JCU’s beautiful Saint Ignatius Plaza, including a performance by dancers from Karamu House, the oldest African American theater in the United States, followed by a workshop on adult Griot Dance. It was an unforgettable way to end the event.

Until next time!