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Continuing the Jewish campus climate conversation

Jun 13, 2019

 
Dear parents, alumni, and friends of North Carolina Hillel,
 
A few weeks ago, we toasted the class of 2019 across the state and wished them success and happiness on their next adventures. We also said goodbye to our other students as they left campus, whether for home, internships, or travel abroad. The end of this school year was bittersweet, not only for students completing one more year of their college journey, but also for our students and staff battling more serious issues on all of our North Carolina campuses.
"I have seen first-hand the outstanding work North Carolina Hillel is doing to provide a strong foundation for Jewish students on campuses across our state, including at UNC-Chapel Hill. Hillel has played an invaluable role in advancing our University’s commitment to fostering a welcoming and safe environment for our students. Hillel is also a leader in nurturing civil discourse that advances ideas, knowledge and understanding, helping our entire community navigate challenging and abhorrent events in our world."

- Interim UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz
 
This year our students and staff across the state have grappled with anti-Semitism, anti-Israel bias, and, at UNC-Charlotte, outright violence. In this letter, we want to focus specifically on the campus climate for Jewish students and address questions that parents and alumni have been asking. And we want to express our deep gratitude for the support we’ve received from this community over the last year.
 
This was a year when many of our students encountered anti-Semitism for the first time, and the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, though many miles away, only heightened their feelings of vulnerability. Most recently, a swastika was spray-painted in the Free Expression Tunnel at NC State in May. It was almost immediately painted over by members of NC State’s Student Government and condemned by the administration. In April, anti-Semitic flyers, referring to “an evil Jewish plot,” were placed at Davis Library at UNC-Chapel Hill. UNC Public Safety opened an investigation, which is ongoing. In March, the controversial Conflict Over Gaza conference, jointly sponsored by Duke and UNC, took place. Afterwards, a video came out, showing a rapper at the conference saying, “I cannot be anti-Semitic alone,” encouraging the audience to sing with him “like Mel Gibson.” UNC leadership has taken these events very seriously, swiftly condemning the acts. As students returned to campus after winter break, two polarizing speakers, both with history of making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments, were invited to speak at different campus events. In February, Linda Sarsour was a keynote speaker at the UNC School of Public Health’s annual Minority Health Conference, and in January, Tamika Mallory delivered UNC-Asheville’s annual MLK Week keynote address. In late September, Nazi symbols and anti-Semitic language were spray-painted in Appalachian State’s Free Expression Tunnel.
 
In light of these events, parents and alumni have been asking two questions in particular: “What are you doing about it on campus?” and “How can I help?” We want to answer both.

What is North Carolina Hillel doing about it?
 
NC Hillel leadership continues to build long-term, trusting partnerships with senior university administrators, working closely to ensure the safety and prosperity of Jewish students, including:
 
  • At UNC-Chapel Hill, we have been in regular communication with the chancellor, provost, multiple vice chancellors and deans, and chief of campus police. Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz recently had dinner with students at UNC Hillel to learn from them firsthand. On April 11, Hillel at UNC-Chapel Hill hosted Dr. Marc Dollinger, an expert on anti-Semitism on college campuses. He delivered a public lecture, attended by the provost, and met with groups of students and faculty.
  • At NC State, Hillel has emerged as a campus leader in interfaith work and university-wide collaboration; after the swastika appeared, Hillel worked closely with administration to ensure a swift university response. NC Hillel is planning for student event in the fall that address these issues, including a dinner series called "Real Conversation About Differences."
  • When Tamika Mallory came to UNC-Asheville, NC Hillel’s Director of Statewide Initiatives met with students, faculty, and Chancellor Nancy Cable to discuss the importance of including the Jewish community in cultural diversity initiatives.
  • At Appalachian State, Hillel responded to anti-Semitic graffiti in the Free Expression Tunnel by spearheading a campus-wide program together with AEPi. This program, “Two Days Against Hate,” included hundreds of students signing a pledge against hate, student-led conversations about differences, a speaker from the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation, and discussions with a reformed white supremacist and KKK member who is now an anti-racism activist.
  • At other campuses, including UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Wilmington, East Carolina, and Guilford College, NC Hillel continues to strengthen relationships with senior leadership.
  • Meanwhile, NC Hillel is exploring ways to address these issues systematically, across our campuses, recently discussing these challenges with Interim UNC-System President Dr. Bill Roper.
  • NC Hillel is also in regular communication with campus police across the state, local police departments, and the FBI, to safeguard our students’ physical safety.
And throughout the semester, Hillel staff met with students and listened to their concerns. For example, Rabbi Melissa Simon hosted multiple student discussions, creating spaces for students to share and process their thoughts and feelings.
 
Most important of all, Hillel has created opportunities for students to experience meaningful celebrations of Judaism and Israel.NC Hillel built Jewish communities across the state, connecting with over 1,000 Jewish students this yearthrough holiday celebrations and social events, leadership development and Jewish learning, volunteering and Israel education. Our students have the support of a strong, proud Jewish community. They develop confidence through mentor relationships and gain a richer understanding of Judaism and Israel. This empowers them to be campus-wide leaders and prepares them to face the challenges of anti-Semitism in diverse settings and work towards change on campus and beyond.

What can you do to help?
 
We are so fortunate to have a strong community of parents, alumni, and other friends that is engaged and committed. Thank you to all of you. Here are a few ways you can help our students:
 
First, for the parents, we recommend listening to your child. Some students want to be campus advocates, while others are more cautious. Some may be uncertain of their feelings, or they may not feel affected at all. Ask them about their personal experiences on campus. Ask them what their hopes are for next year. And encourage them to keep an eye out for our fall programs and attend the ones that interest them (we have everything from political speakers to arts and craft nights).
 
For the parents, we also recommend watching this video about how to address Israeli politics on campus. The video is a few years old, but it contains a lot of relevant, practical advice that you can discuss with your child. While these challenges are real, our campuses are neither teeming with anti-Semitism nor hotbeds of anti-Zionism, and there are concrete steps that our students can take to be prepared, to think critically, and to engage thoughtfully and productively.
 
And finally, for all our friends -please help support our students. We believe that universities across North Carolina are wonderful homes for Jewish students. We hope to continue strengthening our presence on campus, providing even more students with meaningful, inspiring Jewish experiences, and forging successful partnerships with other campus groups. For this, we rely on the generous support of the larger Jewish community. Please consider contributing any amount to North Carolina Hillel. Every gift increases the impact on our students.
 
In the face of these challenges, we couldn't be more proud of our students’ growth and determination, and our staff's resilience and dedication. We hope that when our students return to campus in the fall, they feel rejuvenated and ready to start a new year. We are excited to support them and be their home away from home when they arrive.
 
With gratitude for your partnership and care for our students,
 Ari Gauss
Executive Director

North Carolina Hillel Foundation
210 West Cameron Avenue
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
(919) 942-4057

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