As you may know, toward the end of the last academic year in conjunction with the board of trustees, we embarked on an effort to understand how the rising tide of antisemitism in the United States and on college campuses was manifesting itself at Tufts. Through the course of the past several months, an ad hoc committee of senior leaders and board members—in collaboration with Hillel International and the TCC Group, an external group with expertise in these matters—met regularly to understand the complexities and consider paths forward. This work was guided by our collective belief that antisemitism, discrimination, and harassment of any form should not be tolerated at Tufts and our commitment to ensure that all members of our community can express their religious and cultural identity free from fear, discrimination, or prejudice.
This effort, which had an initial focus on the undergraduate student community, included more than 40 focus groups involving over 100 faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and students from a diverse range of backgrounds and religious identities. In addition, it included a survey of the entire undergraduate student body and the 2021 graduating class. Though the survey had a modest response rate, when its findings were considered in conjunction with the focus groups, we felt confident in some trends and observations.
What we found was both heartening and troubling. And, in many ways, data collected validated concerns that we have been working to address.
Overall, most members of the Tufts community, including a significant majority of Jewish respondents, feel that Tufts is a good place for Jewish students. There is a vigorous Jewish life on campus with a diverse array of programming and events offered by Tufts Hillel, Tufts Chabad, and academic departments. Our extensive curriculum on historical and contemporary Jewish issues has been further enhanced this year with the addition of Yonatan Brafman to our department of religion this past fall.
Despite this robust environment, more than half of Jewish student respondents reported to have observed some form of antisemitism at Tufts. Disturbingly, we also heard from some Jewish students who felt that, in order to be welcome in student organizations supporting social justice, they had to hide their Jewish identities. Relatedly, some faculty and staff noted that the climate related to antisemitism, which often revolves around issues related to Israel-Palestine, has become more challenging in recent years. The line between political speech and antisemitic speech can be difficult to find and isn’t the same for everyone.
A number of recommendations have been proposed that we are identifying ways to implement across the university. These include:
Further education and training for students, faculty, and staff, coordinated by the Provost and CDOs’ offices, on what is considered antisemitism and antisemitic speech and partnering with nationally recognized organizations to do so.
Orientation discrimination and bias awareness programs that educate incoming students on antisemitism distinctly among other forms of race and ethnicity-based forms of discrimination.
Conversation, dialogue, and discussion forums on understanding better the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, which often influences how antisemitism manifests itself on our campus.
Better awareness of Office of Equal Opportunity processes and improved communication to the community about these processes.
The creation of a university-wide advisory council of faculty and staff, to advise the senior leadership team on the best ways to approach the implementation process.
As a first step in response to these recommendations, the university has joined Hillel International’s Campus Climate Initiative (CCI). This will allow us to work with partners at Hillel International to assess our campus climate as it relates to antisemitism and to learn best practices from 18 other peer institutions and their leaders, who are also participating in this year’s CCI cohort, to develop action-oriented solutions to the recommendations that were identified for our own institution.
We are not immune from the rise in antisemitism across the nation, including the alarming incident in Texas just this past week. It is incumbent that we take active steps to combat it on our campus. You have my commitment that we will work on these recommendations to improve the quality of Jewish life at Tufts and work to combat campus antisemitism in its various forms.