Name It as It is: Calling Out Anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic Statements

Reverend J. Cody Nielsen

March 10, 2017

In the weeks post the inauguration, a growing wave of anti-Semitic situations have erupted on campuses across the country.  This adds to the nearly continuous Islamaphobic actions which have been on-going as well.  The reality is that campus has become an unsafe environment for mostly all persons who are non-Christian.  And it’s time the University Presidents and the rest of the administration say something about it.

On some campuses, this seems to not be a problem, as in the example of Rutger’s President Robert L. Barchi.  After the Executive Order to ban persons from seven countries came out, it was Barchi who stood with the Muslim students at a rally at the University.  And in an interview with the Philadelphia based Inquirer Barchi remarked, “Once the campaigns are over and we start having actions taken that directly impact my students at my university — my ability to do what I need to do and our ability as a university to carry out our mission — I have to speak out. And that’s what is happening.”

On other campuses, statements from University Presidents regarding Anti-Semitic speech is amplifying as well.  President Eric Kaler, President of the University of Minnesota, which has seen a number of incidents in just the past two weeks, released in part this statement to the campus body last week.   

We are profoundly disturbed by a series of ugly and frightening anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred over the past two months. Some of these incidents have been publicized, but there have also been other less visible, but equally painful, incidents threatening members of our Jewish community…We are a campus community that is grounded in respect and enriched by diversity. These abhorrent and alarming acts are inconsistent with the University's fundamental values. They have an especially terrible impact on members of our Jewish community, but all members of our University community must feel this injury and stand in solidarity against hate and bigotry.”

These statements go to the core of how higher education must continuously call out the situations at hand.  And while these two Presidents of major universities have spoken out and “named it as it is” hundreds of other university administrators are hiding behind a perception that it is ok not to name specific forms of hate and discrimination.  Instead of saying the phrase “Muslim ban” or by actually determining that many of these acts are in fact Anti-Semitic, many Presidents are using bland language to protect “community members who are affected” or other wording which appears at times to say almost nothing about those who are the most affected.  These statements are but words on a page in a world that requires us to act and act quickly.

The campuses we serve should be a safe space for its members to be respected and for hate to be overcome.  While we will never be able to fully prevent the acts that have taken place over the past several weeks, months, and some would argue years and decades from happening, we can name it as it is, claiming with seriousness the realities that religious, secular, and spiritual students are feeling in the current political climate of our country.  And we can work continuously with intent to support these students by understanding and relaying to the campus at large that these incidents are attacks on all of us, with specificity to those in our communities who are amongst the most targeted religious worldviews on earth. 

The fundamental goal of higher education remains the preparation of global citizens through education and transformative experiences.  This process, one which sets apart higher education from that of other areas of society, should always strive to set the bar high.  When we allow certain areas of diversity to be left out of the discussion, we fail to name and claim the very global citizenship narrative so many have already articulated.  We are seeking a world that is understood, supported, and changed because our students are prepared for it.  Leaving out religious worldviews from the conversation will always have us falling short of our goals. But in naming the situations as they are, we declare as a university that this too, alongside so many other areas of diversity, does matter in the global tapestry of our campus and that we as higher educators will stand up and defend our communities from any act that seeks to divide us, and most especially right now amongst our religious minorities.



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