Walking around campus, looking out at the blueish green mountains in between red brick buildings, it’s easy for students to think they’ve entered a refuge, far from the chaos and social issues of a typical city. Unfortunately, there’s more to a university experience than its aesthetic.
During my first week on campus, I was warned by my Jewish peers that there will come a time when I stop wearing Jewish symbols for safety, as they have since coming to UVM.
Last year, as UVM students felt ignored by the administration regarding issues surrounding sexual assault, a student group emerged called Share Your Story UVM. The group offered a safe space for survivors to share their stories and demand action anonymously. However, that same group then made several posts that excluded Jewish survivors, attacked Jewish groups on campus including Hillel, and spread antisemitic rhetoric. While UVM Hillel quickly announced their continued support for all survivors regardless of their identities including Jewish survivors, the university failed to respond to the group’s antisemitism.
Earlier, a teacher’s assistant at UVM publicly expressed the desire to use a discriminatory grading policy against Jewish students, posting a sample grading policy that among other things, deducted two points “just cuz I hate [their] vibe in general”, would give Zionists a zero for participation, and deducted five points from the grades of students who participated in a Jewish activity called Birthright. The university has yet to respond to this incident of disparate treatment from April 5, 2021.
These events merely highlight two out of the dozens of verified antisemitic incidents at the University of Vermont reported to Jewish on Campus over the last year.
When a university fails to protect marginalized students from brazen discrimination, one can only expect antisemitism to flourish.
And flourish it has. Antisemitism has poured directly out of UVM’s campus into the city of Burlington. UVM Book Club, a university recognized student club, consists of a group, “University of Vermont Revolutionary Socialist Union” which publicly announced on May 1, 2021 that they exclude Zionists. After months passed with no reaction from the university, the group, which continues to operate with university recognition, announced their participation in local politics– specifically their work to try to pass legislation during the High Holy Days in support of the controversial organization BDS.
During the holiest time of the Jewish year, UVM students will be among those participating in a march through downtown Burlington, before arriving at City Council in hopes of pressuring our local government to give in to their demands.
The proposed legislation itself begins with roughly a page of justification– not too dissimilar from the same xenophobic narratives my family heard said about themselves as immigrants. That we are a people of criminals, and therefore deserve whatever edict is to be carried out against us. The resolution even explicitly names Jews as accountable for denying Palestinians self determination.
The ultimate action item is an endorsement of the controversial organization BDS, which both indirectly and directly harms Jews. The passage of similar pro-BDS resolutions have been proven to correlate with higher rates of antisemitic incidents. At the University of Toronto, BDS resulted in the ban of kosher food, inhibiting the ability of students to practice Judaism. At Pomona College, the passage of BDS was used as an excuse to cut funds to Jewish groups Hillel and Chabad.
Should this resolution pass, it would become the first BDS resolution passed by a municipality in the United States, making its potential effects unpredictable. However, we do know Jewish on Campus has already recorded a spike in antisemitic incidents at UVM over the last week. Since Thursday, there has been an average of over 3 antisemitic incidents per day at UVM.
Beyond its issues of antisemitism, BDS advocates for institutional boycotts against Israel rather than support for the Palestinian people or even individual-based boycotts that would be representative of Vermonters.
The Jewish community, unprepared for such affronts to occur during the Days of Awe, wasn’t able to launch a petition until the day Rosh Hashanah began. While it is unclear how events will play out in Burlington, I hope others will look to us as an example of what happens when the needs of Jews on campus go ignored. The bigotry does not stop when students step off campus.