Study: College Campuses Were Far Safer for Jewish Students Pre-October 7

Jewish college students feel less safe on campus now than they did prior to the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel by a large margin. According to a new poll released by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Hillel International, the Jewish campus organization, “the results were sobering.”

Surveys done before and after the attacks showed a sharp downward trend in the degree of comfort and security experienced by Jewish students.

Among the results:

Before October 7 over half the Jewish students surveyed (66 percent) felt “very” or “extremely” safe on campus. After the attacks that number shrank to 45 percent.

By similar numbers, prior to the attacks, 64 percent of Jewish students felt their campuses were “very” or “extremely” welcoming and supportive of Jewish students. That number dropped substantially, to 44 percent, after October 7.

Comparing numbers before and after October 7, an even more precipitous drop occurs—from 64 percent to 39 percent—on the point of Jewish students feeling “very” or “extremely” comfortable with others on campus knowing they are Jewish.

The survey asked a variety of questions to gauge student perceptions of whether, and to what extent, antisemitism is a problem on their campus, to measure any experiences with and responses to antisemitic incidents on campus, and their opinions about whether and how well their campus administration had addressed the problem of anti-Jewish prejudice on campus.

Most students—Jew and non-Jew—felt the responsibility to be more proactive in addressing the issue of anti-Jewish prejudice on campus falls upon campus administrators, at 48.2 percent of Jewish students and 38.5 percent of non-Jewish students.

Additionally, since the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year 73 percent of Jewish college students answering the survey have experienced or witnessed some form of antisemitism, as compared to 43.9 percent of non-Jewish students reporting the same. An earlier survey gauging a student’s entire college experience revealed that 70 percent had encountered some form of antisemitism.

“Though college campuses have long been considered bastions of free expression, students consistently expressed discomfort with both speaking out about campus antisemitism and with expressing their views of Israel,” the ADL report says.

Nearly a third (31.9 percent) of Jewish students felt they can’t speak out about campus antisemitism, whereas only 17.6 percent of non-Jews reported feeling the same way.

Before October 7 Jewish students feeling uncomfortable about others knowing their opinions on Israel numbered 29.8 percent, whereas after the attacks that number spiked to 38.3 percent. Non-Jews also felt increasing anxiety about speaking out, with their before and after numbers going from 13.9 percent to 18.9 percent.

Students who experienced antisemitism on campus reported aftermaths ranging from difficulty focusing on academic work to considering changing schools. Victims of antisemitic incidents on campus were also more likely to report feeling separated from their campus community and were more cynical about campus officials taking their safety and well-being seriously.  The main response of those experiencing hate speech, slurs, jokes at their expense or bullying stemming from antisemitism is to avoid the source of the abuse. The second most reported response is feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

“These findings,” according to the ADL, “suggest that Jewish college students have adopted a strategy of avoidance and silence in response to repeat victimization. This phenomenon is all too familiar to other historically marginalized groups when institutions fail to provide adequate protection or consistent mechanisms for redressing issues stemming from identity-based victimization.”

The ADL, in sounding the alarm to what surveys indicate is a growing problem, points to the rise in the space of just two years from a 2021 study where nearly one-third of Jewish students reported that they’d personally experienced antisemitism to a majority now saying they’ve been targets of anti-Jew abuse and moreover feeling discomfort with others knowing of their Jewish identity.

The report concludes with a warning: “Campus antisemitism has far-reaching implications, the scope of which extends beyond the context of current events… We hope this study makes it clear that ignoring or gaslighting students experiencing antisemitism substantively contributes to an unsafe campus climate. The breadth of the problem requires a broad and comprehensive response, and addressing this scourge requires real action from campus organizations, faculty, campus administrations, residential life, and campus security.”

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