Letter to the Editor: What publicity can do for Jewish students

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigation into antisemitism at the University of Vermont has thrust Jewish students to the center of global attention. 

The rise in antisemitism on campus is part of a troubling national trend, and our beloved University is not immune to its dangers.

Many want to know in more detail what is happening on our campus. Jewish life, learning and connections to Israel are thriving at UVM, even though antisemitism exists here.

Hundreds of students celebrated Rosh Hashanah proudly and publicly in the Davis Center. Last week, students prepared Shabbat meal kits of kale and potatoes grown on our Hillel farm. Our students studied Jewish agrarian traditions and modern innovations alongside UVM faculty and Hillel educators while working to alleviate food insecurity. We have a full Birthright Israel trip this winter.

At the same time, Hillel is leading the coalition to help improve the campus climate for Jewish students so that this robust and flourishing Jewish life can thrive without fear of hatred or discrimination.

Jewish students, friends, faculty, staff and allies recently shared important ideas about how to counter antisemitism at UVM listening sessions. These are just some of their recommendations:

  • When Jewish students report bias as antisemitism, universities and colleges must promptly and publicly condemn every incident, or else they will continue unabated.
  • There should be ongoing education for the campus community to better understand the intertwined complexity of Jewish identity, antisemitism and Israel.
  • Judaism is not just a faith-based religion. Students should be allowed to freely express identities based on religion, ethnicity, culture and a connection to Zionism or Israel without preconditions.
  • Discrimination impacts everyone with a historically marginalized identity—Jewish students should not be treated differently when they experience bias and harassment.

Publicity of antisemitism at UVM has helped students find their voices to speak out and stand up for their right to be Jewish without preconditions or needing to hide an integral part of their identity to be accepted by others.

We can and must listen to these voices and learn from them. The first step in countering antisemitism on campus is acknowledging the seriousness of the challenge. We invite the partnership of our campus community in ensuring UVM remains a place where Jewish students and all students feel welcome to live and learn safely.

Matt Vogel (he/him) has been the Executive Director of Hillel at UVM since 2013 and has spent his career supporting Jewish students on campus.