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University holds anti-Semitism seminars following appearance of anti-Semitic posters

This differs from the University’s previous responses to white supremacist postering

University holds anti-Semitism seminars following appearance of anti-Semitic posters

Students meet outside of Hillel's office in Kay Spiritual Life Center.

Correction appended.

The University is hosting a series of seminars on anti-Semitism following the anti-Semitic posters hung on the School of International Service building on Tuesday, Feb. 27. The next event, open to students, faculty and staff, will be on March 28 and focus on anti-Semitism at the University.

These meetings are part of a new strategy to address hateful postering, Vice President of Campus Life Fanta Aw told The Eagle Monday. AU chose not to host a town hall after the anti-immigration posters in January and the anti-Semitic posters in February. This marks a change from fall 2017, when the University hosted a campus-wide town hall in Kay Spiritual Life Center after someone hung Confederate flag flyers in several campus buildings.

“One of things we learned about the town hall in September is that after you’ve had a series of these, if you’re going to do anything, you need to focus on the education piece of it,” Aw said.

The Anti-Defamation League met with University leaders during summer 2017 to teach them about responding to hate incidents like white supremacist postering, Doron Ezickson, the organization’s D.C. regional director, told The Eagle in February. Campuses can limit hate by “engaging people with knowledge,” Ezickson said. They should not give white supremacist groups the attention they seek, Ezickson said.

Aw’s campus-wide email and the announcement of community check-ins matches this philosophy.

“Part of our response is to not give these groups attention, which is what they want, and we want you to know we are being as proactive as we possibly can,” she wrote in her statement.

Steph Black, a Jewish student, said that Aw’s statement is a signal of larger anti-Semitism at the University. Anti-Semitism is not discussed enough, she said.

“There are a lot of ways to say that these were Neo-Nazis,” Black said. “These were raging anti-Semites. These are people who do not believe Jews are humans and there are ways to phrase things that say who they are without necessarily naming them.”

Joshua Hare, a junior studying law and society, is the Shabbat innovation intern for Hillel. He is not an official representative of Hillel. Hare thought that Aw’s email was a standard reply for white supremacist postering; however, he was impressed by the scheduling of the community meetings

“To me, I find some importance in not identifying certain actors sometimes,” Hare said. “While I understand that some other students would like to know who posted them and more about the organization, to me the University’s priority should be responding to students about how they’re feeling and about how it makes them feel safe on campus.”

Rose Haas, a sophomore majoring in Jewish studies, also told The Eagle that educating students on anti-Semitism is a positive step. However, she would have liked to see Operation Homeland named in the University’s statement. Operation Homeland, a group connected to white supremacist Richard Spencer, was written on the posters.

“It would behoove the school to explicitly name the groups that are problematic,” Haas said.

Anti-Semitism education sessions scheduled for before, after spring break

The two community meetings were both “inward” and “outward” facing events, junior Steph Black told The Eagle. 

Black met with Aw to set up the meetings, she said. Aw had already reached out to the Anti-Defamation League to plan an educational seminar on anti-Semitism before she met with Black, she told The Eagle via email. The same day the posters were hung on the University's campus, the Anti-Defamation League released a report that anti-Semitic incidents surged in 2017. Aw wanted to plan a seminar on anti-Semitism with the Anti-Defamation League in response to the posters. Black urged Aw to hold more educational sessions on anti-Semitism to change how the University approaches the topic, she said.

The inward facing event, open just to Jewish students, was on March 6 in the AU Hillel office. Hillel is the campus Jewish student organization. The outward facing event was on March 7 for all students in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion’s office.

There will be another event on March 28 where students can learn about anti-Semitism at the University. This will be open for AU students, faculty and staff.

“Often anti-Semitism is not seen as a legitimate form of oppression and not seen as a legitimate concern,” Black said. “Jewish students don’t get the support they need when dealing with this.”

With this new focus on education – and not town halls – the meetings will serve as a way to have a conversation and educate others on anti-Semitism on campus, Aw said.

“We heard from our Jewish community and I’ve spent some time with Hillel,” Aw said. “I think the way that we can get to this is let’s have community dialogue around the rise in anti-Semitism, what do we know is happening and how does it play itself out in different ways and how do we as a community respond in the most appropriate ways.”

Aaron Traub, a sophomore in the School of Communication, said that town halls are often coupled with protests. One-on-one conversations like these community check-ins provide a less risky, quieter environment to process the postering.

“One-on-one conversations not only limit the risk involved in a protest, but they allow students and faculty to be in an environment where they are free to express their concerns and opinions as well as become more aware of the global issue of anti-Semitism on college campuses,” Traub said.

Scott Boxer, president of AU Students for Israel and a sophomore in the School of International Service, said that the posters disguised anti-Semitism as a criticism of Israel, Boxer said. The decision to hold smaller educational sessions on anti-Semitism instead of a town hall is positive, he said, because town halls provide notoriety for anti-Semitic hate groups.

“Obviously, this was a very disgusting or hateful act. But, this one thankfully didn’t include any personal threats of violence against a specific person or a specific group,” Boxer said. “It wasn’t threatening somebody’s life. There wasn’t that feeling of urgency to have a big town hall with every member of administration and massive amounts of students.”

Along with Black, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and AU Hillel are coordinating these events. Last semester, Hillel and CDI partnered on a workshop for Jewish student leaders, Executive Director of AU Hillel Jason Benkendorf said.

This semester, beyond the meetings on anti-Semitism, they’re hosting a faculty and staff workshop titled “Building Relationships Across Difference” with Jewish activist Yavilah McCoy on March 19, who will also be speaking on campus on March 20. McCoy will host another workshop called “Allyship While Jewish” on March 21.

According to Dialogue & Diversity Programs Coordinator Michelle Strange, the meetings will be a way to process where the AU community is at with anti-Semitism.

“Now that these posters have been hung up, how do we take what we already have and refocus it?” Strange said. “Processing our feelings, our thoughts and how we build solidarity and how we move forward, what’s the connection and what’s the difference between having a critique on Israel versus being anti-semitic?”

A handful of Jewish students came to the inward event Tuesday, Benkendorf said. He wants these meetings to give Jewish students an opportunity to express their feelings on anti-Semitism and their experience at the University, he said. He hopes students will brainstorm ideas to address anti-Semitism and bigotry during the check-ins.

“It is really important to me that folks understand that on campus and beyond campus, AU really is by and large a really wonderful place to be a Jewish student,” Benkendorf said. “There’s a lot of positive things going on, we’ve got an active and vibrant community. Having an event like this doesn’t change that, but it’s certainly something we have to work through together.”

Correction: The original version of this article mislabeled the third anti-Semitism event on March 28 as a speaker event. The third event will not feature a speaker. Instead, it will be another educational discussion on anti-Semitism. 

mcarrasco@theeagleonline.com and crozen@theeagleonline.com


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