As students prepare to return to college campuses across the country, they’ll meet others from many faiths and cultures. The University of St. Thomas strives to be welcoming to people of all faiths. As a result, several university leaders came together to sign a statement of support for Jewish students, colleagues and neighbors.
The statement circulated by the Jay Phillips Center for Interreligious Studies at St. Thomas, said in part, “[We are] committed to the ongoing work of supporting, welcoming, and learning from our Jewish students, colleagues, and neighbors. … This includes working to build a university community at St. Thomas where members from all religious and non-religious orientations feel welcome to safely and freely practice their traditions without fear and prejudice."
The letter was prompted, in part, by an increase in antisemitic incidents nationally, and particularly in the Midwest.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, a D.C.-based advocacy group that has tracked occurrences of antisemitic happenings at Midwest universities, including a 2021 incident at the University of Minnesota, survey results from college campuses nationwide “found that 32% of Jewish students experienced antisemitism directed at them, and 79% of those students reported that it happened to them more than once during the last academic year.”
Professor Yohuru Williams, founding director of the Racial Justice Initiative at St. Thomas, recently spoke to KSTP on this topic and said, “These numbers should be concerning to us (as a nation) because the assumption is we were moving in the right direction ... we have to go deeper in terms of this engagement and think about really fundamentally altering the way that people think about the value of diversity in our community.”
He also stated that, “..the big jump in the bias crime numbers since 2019 is not acceptable, but not surprising either.”
The survey revealed that many students who face some form of antisemitism tend not to report it so the numbers can be larger than the recorded data. However, most students (71%) said they felt safe as Jews on campus, and 67% said their campus was welcoming and supportive of Jewish students.
Father Lawrence Blake, a St. Thomas chaplain and the director of Campus Ministry, said, “We deplore all acts of violence and threats of violence against our brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith, as well as any threats of violence against those of Islamic faith, Hinduism, or any religion.”
The university, in coordination with the Jay Phillips Center, is encouraging the community to attend any of the several upcoming free events that address antisemitism this semester. They begin just ahead of the Jewish Rosh Hashanah holiday.
Sept 22: Antisemitism - Never Again: Understanding Antisemitism and the Holocaust in History and Today: (Part 1) with Laura Zelle, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC)
Oct 27: The Holocaust - Never Again: Understanding Antisemitism and the Holocaust in History and Today: (Part 2) with Ethan Roberts, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC)
Nov 3: Christian Nationalism in America: Its History and Resurgence (co-sponsored with Theology Department)
Nov 17:Artifacts and Memorialization Never Again: Understanding Antisemitism and the Holocaust in History and Today: (Part 3) with Jonathan Edelman, Capital Jewish Museum
Mar 28: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in the United States (co-sponsored with Theology Department)
Hans Gustafson, director of the Jay Phillips Center, said, “Our hope is that these events go beyond a statement to more deeply engaged people on this issue.”
Cheyene Bialke is a third-year scholar transitioning to the University of St. Thomas. Cheyene is pursuing a double major in digital media arts and journalism at the University of St. Thomas and hopes of pursuing a profession around those subjects.