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Surprise! Jewish students *still* aren’t scared on campus

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A recent Brandeis University study of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment on American college campuses finds information completely un-shocking to anyone who’s ever talked to more than three Jewish students: an overwhelming majority do not see their campus as “hostile to Jews.”

The details: Brandeis’ Steinhardt Social Research Institute polled undergraduates — Jewish and non-Jewish — from four major campuses where Jewish students are at least 10 percent of the student body: Brandeis, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania and University of Michigan.

It’s 41 pages, but here are four key takeaways:

1. 95 percent feel safe on campus

The majority of Jewish students polled said they hadn’t experienced anti-Semitism on campus and didn’t see their campus as “hostile to Jews.” Over 95 percent of Jewish students polled say they feel safe on campus.

2. Hostile remarks? Yes. Hostile environment? No.

The majority of Jewish students polled said they had heard “hostile remarks toward Israel.” However, the majority of students at three out of the four schools did not characterize their campus as a “hostile environment toward Israel.” At University of Michigan, 51 percent of Jewish students saw their campus as hostile toward Israel.

3. Low support for academic boycott of Israel

Support for an academic boycott of Israeli scholars and universities is scarce. Academic boycotts weren’t widely supported among Jewish and non-Jewish students at any of the four institutions — with the highest percentage at 12 percent at Brandeis University. (It’s interesting — and possibly telling — that surveyors chose not to measure support for economic divestment from Israel.)

4. They have other things on their minds

Israel and other Jewish issues weren’t pressing concerns for the majority of Jewish students polled. Topics like race, mental health and sexual assault were ranked higher by a majority of students at all four schools.

If you’re a campus Jew, chances are that none of these conclusions are earth-shattering. The results are consistent with a study earlier this year by Stanford University Professor Ari Kelman, based on interviews with 66 students from five California campuses: UCLA, UC Irvine, UC Berkeley (of which I am an alum), San Francisco State University and Stanford. He found that the vast majority of California Jewish students surveyed felt safe on campus, did not characterize their campuses as hotbeds of anti-Semitism, and chose not to get involved with Israel debates.

The Brandeis study’s results are also consistent with what you’ll read in New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine I run. Every year, students submit op-eds expressing frustration over the Jewish community’s BDS focus; frankly it’s just not a big a deal on campus. Students often write about feeling safe on campus and wanting to participate in campus activist circles, despite popular off-campus belief to the contrary.

[Related: Jewish students on ‘hotspot’ campuses don’t feel threatened]

In the past year, New Voices pieces on mental health, race and sexual harassment consistently got the most hits and reactions from readers ages 18 through 24. New Voices knows that Jewish students weren’t terrified on campus, were over BDS, and were worried about things other than Israel long before it was cool.

But sass aside, these studies are extremely important. New Voices has been kvetching for decades that understanding Jewish life on campus means actually talking to Jewish students. There is an endless stream of articles in the Jewish media about campus life without empirical data from students themselves. And as a result, attention and funding go toward issues that aren’t proven priorities for Jewish students who want to be engaged. So, while the findings of this report are no surprise to me, they may be news to the wider Jewish community — and it’s time that news spread.

So keep the studies coming!

A version of this piece was originally published by New Voices.

Sara Weissman
Sara Weissman

Sara Weissman is the editor in chief of New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine, and a former J. intern who graduated from U.C. Berkeley. She can be reached at [email protected].