Middle-aged woman wearing glasses.
University Ombudsperson Brenda Berlin will chair the committee. (Photo/Courtesy Berlin)

Stanford to ‘enhance belonging’ for Jews after antisemitic incidents

After a school year fraught with antisemitic incidents, Stanford University has announced the formation of an advisory committee to “assess and enhance Jewish life” on campus.

Plans for the committee were first announced in October, when Stanford issued a report and an apology for limiting the admissions of Jewish students in the 1950s. On May 25, the university released the names of the committee’s seven members and chair, all appointed by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. 

The news comes at the end of a school year that began with a reckoning over religious accommodation during the High Holidays and concluded with a rash of antisemitic vandalism.

Committee chair and university ombudsperson Brenda Berlin said that the committee plans to address current policies on religious accommodation and student access to religious and cultural experiences, among other issues.

“It is the intention of the committee to help create a dynamic, action-oriented and sustainable means of supporting and enhancing the experience of the Jewish community on Stanford campus,” Berlin told J. in an email.

The official charge of the committee is to “assess the needs of the Jewish community on the Stanford campus as represented by students, staff, and faculty, with a focus on how to best enhance Jewish life at Stanford,” according to a May 25 press release.

In addition to Berlin — who investigates complaints against the university in the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity, Access and Community — the committee includes professors, students and Stanford graduates. Berlin herself is a member of the Stanford Law School class of 1990. Committee members were selected for their expertise and knowledge of the Jewish community, she said.

The appointees include Stanford associate professor Ari Y. Kelman, who chaired the university task force on the history of Jewish admissions at Stanford, and Shelley Hebert, co-president of the Stanford Jewish Alumni Network, which launched last year after the anti-Jewish admissions practices were disclosed.

Hebert is optimistic about the committee’s ability to enact change.

“I think it has the potential to take a broad and deep institutional view across all parts of the Stanford Jewish community,” she said. “Having that broader view but also having really deep history and firsthand involvement is a way this group can provide input that really hasn’t had a focal point before.”

Hebert, who graduated in 1976, said that she expects the committee can help to settle issues that Jewish Stanford students have raised for generations.

“I hope that this committee is going to be woven into the fabric of Stanford University life for the long term,” she said.

The committee also aims to address antisemitism on campus. In just the last year, concerns over the campus climate for Jewish students have been raised many times.

The 2022-23 fall term started with a conflict over the first day of classes falling on Rosh Hashanah. Shortly thereafter, a mezuzah was “torn off” a student’s doorway, prompting a hate crime investigation. In March, an image of Hitler and swastikas were drawn on a whiteboard on a dorm door. Another student’s mezuzah was broken just before Passover. Over the spring semester, swastikas were found carved into bathrooms in eight different instances.

In the press release announcing the committee, Tessier-Lavigne promised to address the incidents.

“We are committed to investigating the appalling acts of antisemitism on campus, providing support for members of our Jewish community who are troubled and fearful because of them, and taking appropriate action against anyone found to be responsible for these acts,” the Stanford president said.

The other members of the committee are Randee Fenner (1975 Stanford grad, lecturer in residence at Stanford Law School); Shelly Fisher-Fishkin (humanities professor); Emily Gurwitz (undergraduate student); Justin Hefter (2011 Stanford grad, executive director of the 30 Birds Foundation); and David Jaffe (law school/graduate student).

Though its makeup was announced last month, the new committee has not met yet. Berlin said she plans to begin work this summer.

Regarding antisemitism on campus, she said, “The committee is ready to dive into this issue and make recommendations for university policies and practices that will continue to enhance a deep sense of connection and belonging for members of our Jewish community.”

CORRECTION, June 15 at 2:34 p.m.: This story incorrectly stated that Berlin was a member of the Stanford Law School class of 1971. In fact, she graduated from Stanford Law in 1990.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene is a J. Staff Writer. Originally from Vermont, she has a BA in political science and an MA in journalism from Boston University. Follow her on Twitter at @lilsleygreene.