A few weeks after I finished my final year of university, an incoming freshman asked me for advice. They heard what it was like as a Jewish student on campus and were terrified. It didn’t matter that they were attending a school with a sizable Jewish population. The stories they heard about antisemitism on campuses was enough. They were bracing for a litmus test of leaving part of their Jewish identity behind in order to be accepted by their non-Jewish peers.
While there are many stories of antisemitism on campus, there are also successes stories, which we don’t address as often as we should.
Fear and hostility can, paradoxically, instill pride; when we are told not to be proud of our Jewish identity, it often fosters more pride.
But we don’t have to instill pride through fear. When we share our moments of success, the times in which we engage in compassionate and thoughtful conversations, we can understand that there can also be a sense of belonging on campus – even if those moments feel fleeting.
When we focus only on the antisemitic TikToks we see our peers post or the BDS motions submitted to student governments, we forget about the community of proud Jews and allies we have created on campuses across North America, about the victories over BDS where Jewish students’ rights are reaffirmed and the university administrators who fight to keep antisemitism off their campus.
Last school year at the University of Toronto (UofT), the St. George and Scarborough campuses passed BDS motions that were met with dismay from the Jewish community. What got less press was the UofT administration withholding fees from the graduate student union after the union attempted to use mandatory student fees to promote BDS.
To protect our safety, we must acknowledge the moments of it being upheld, not just the moments when it is being torn away from us. Recognizing the victories of when administrators put Jewish students’ safety first sets an example for other universities to follow suit.
The victories aren’t always prominent. Sometimes it is being at a table with your Jewish student club and connecting with non-Jewish students. It is engaging in enlightening conversations about Israel with your peers. It is feeling comfortable enough to wear a Magen David on campus.
Negative experiences are discouraging and, due to social media, it feels this is the college experience as a Jewish student. But it’s not. No matter how small, we have to start recognizing the successes Jewish students have on campus because there is so much we can celebrate.