A Troubling Report on Campus Anti-Semitism

I recently reported on a clear incident of discrimination against a Jewish UCLA student for her ties to Jewish organizations on campus. Readers who follow this issue will be familiar with other recent cases in which the allegedly progressive movement to boycott Israel has flirted with anti-Semitism.

Until now, though, we haven’t had much data on anti-Semitism on American college campuses. This week, Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, both professors at Trinity College, attempted to fill that gap with a new report. Their headline finding: in the academic year 2013-14, 54% of Jewish students surveyed “reported having been subject to or witnessing anti-Semitism on their campuses”. The survey covered a period prior to this summer’s Gaza offensive.

Here are some of the survey’s other findings. First, being an Israel critic does not shield you from anti-Semitism. Almost half of the respondents who identified themselves as members of J Street—a group that takes critical stances on Israeli policies—reported directly experiencing or witnessing anti-Semitism on campus. Moreover, students’ experiences of anti-Semitism did not vary by their level of Jewish affiliation. Students involved with the Orthodox Chabad group were no more likely to report anti-Semitism than students involved with the non-denominational Hillel group or students involved with Jewish fraternities.

Second, the incidents most often involve interpersonal, as opposed to institutional discrimination. However, the researchers also argue that “anti-Semitism appears to go under the radar” and is “largely ignored by the official cognitive system,” in spite of administrators’ invocations of diversity and inclusiveness.  Third, in spite of Great Britain’s reputation for anti-Semitism and the United States’ reputation for tolerance, American students reported anti-Semitism at the same rate as British students had in 2011. Fourth, women (59%) are more likely to report anti-Semitism than men (51%).

These troubling results, as the authors note, reinforces a 2013 Pew Research Center study in which young Jews reported being called offensive names at higher rates than older Jews. This is a shocking finding given the widespread notion that young people are less prejudiced than older people.

One caveat, which the authors make themselves, is necessary. For a variety of reasons, the survey sample “cannot claim to be a fully representative national sample,” and its response rate, at 10-12%, was relatively low. On the other hand, the authors argues that the students surveyed “seem to mirror the overall national sample” reached in the 2013 National College Student survey.  Admittedly, it seems unlikely that a group, 40% of which reported having “visited a Holocaust memorial museum in the past year,” is representative of the Jewish campus population. However, as the researchers themselves concede, the “climate surveys” used to demonstrate bias against other groups on campus are often bedeviled by small sample sizes and concerns about selection bias. To dismiss this survey’s findings on that basis would deny one of the respondents’ poignant and reasonable demand: “to know that our University stands by us.”

Jonathan Marks

Jonathan Marks

Jonathan Marks is a Professor of Politics at Ursinus College.

One thought on “A Troubling Report on Campus Anti-Semitism”

  1. All anti-Semitisim is deplorable. But can we take this self-reporting, and all self-reporting, with a grain of salt? It is safe to say that about 100 percent of self-identified feminists would claim to have witnessed instances of the “war against women” on campus. Do we take their claims at face value?

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