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Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia Growing on College Campuses | WDIY Local News

Pro-Palestinian students take part in a protest in support of the Palestinians amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza, at Columbia University in New York City, U.S., October 12, 2023.
Pro-Palestinian students take part in a protest in support of the Palestinians amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza, at Columbia University in New York City, U.S., October 12, 2023.

U.S. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania called last week for increased funding for the Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Education. But this press release is not the first sign of a push to end the discrimination many Jewish Americans and individuals of Palestinian descent are facing.

Following the October 7 attacks, Jewish and Palestinian college students nationwide began reporting an alarming rise in anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab hate on campuses.

73% of Jewish college students surveyed have experienced or witnessed anti-semitism in some form since the beginning of this school year. Prior to this year, only 70% of Jewish students experienced some form of discrimination throughout their entire time in college.

The number of Jewish students who say they’re comfortable with others on campus knowing their religion dropped by nearly half.

Palestinian and Arab students have seen notes ordering them to “go back to where they came from” and calling for “death to all Palestinians.” One student at Stanford University was injured in a hit-and-run that’s being investigated as a hate crime. A Princeton University staff member stole a student’s phone and grabbed their hair at a pro-Palestinian protest, and students at George Washington University have had their hijabs ripped off.

Most concerning of all, both Jewish and Palestinian or Arab students say they do not feel comfortable on campus in the wake of the fighting, and they do not feel supported by their schools.

In November, the Department of Education held a week of sessions and actions addressing this spike, including a meeting with leaders of twelve colleges and universities to hear about the strategies being implemented to prevent discrimination.

The presidents of Harvard, UPenn, and M.I.T. were called to testify in front of Congress last week in regards to their schools’ responses to growing discrimination. Although they stated they were “appalled” by anti-semitism at their schools, they responded to the question of whether they would consider anti-semetic or genocidal statements against school policy by saying it would depend on the context.

This, of course, led to backlash, causing the resignation of UPenn’s president only days later and almost leading to the removal of Harvard’s president, although she’s received support from the university.

In the case of Senator Bob Casey’s call for additional funding for civil rights, he highlighted his colleagues’ vocal concern for the safety of students even though they proposed a 15% budget cut for the Office of Civil Rights.

Only 18% of students surveyed say they completed any sort of training specific to anti-Jewish prejudice, according to ADL, a leading anti-hate organization.

And this lack of support from schools goes further, as many Arab and Muslim students say they don’t feel supported by administrations who, while they may have vocally condemned Islamophobia, have not created task forces or implemented other support efforts.

Overall, students are saying that the Islamophobia, anti-Arab hate, and anti-semitism that they’re facing on campuses isn’t being taken seriously.

PEN America, a group protecting free speech through literature, says there are various ways for campuses to become safer environments for all students. They emphasize the importance of speaking out, educating, defending, and supporting their students. The current state of campus climates requires all those efforts and more if we hope to keep our students safe.

James is the News and Public Affairs Director for WDIY. He reports on stories in the Lehigh Valley and across the state which impact the region, along with managing WDIY's volunteers who help create the station's diverse line-up of public affairs programs.
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