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Jewish students navigate college campus safety concerns

Since+the+events+of+Oct.+7%2C+2023%2C+many+Jewish+students+have+become+uncomfortable+with+others+knowing+about+their+Jewish+identities%2C+as+well+as+with+discussing+the+conflict+between+Hamas+and+Israel.
Rachel Olefson ’25
Since the events of Oct. 7, 2023, many Jewish students have become uncomfortable with others knowing about their Jewish identities, as well as with discussing the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

One week after I put together the rough draft of my college list, the presidents of three major universities, Harvard, UPenn and MIT, suspiciously dodged questions about whether they could have done more to protect Jewish students in times of harrowing antisemitism on their campuses. 

As I began to make edits to my original list of top college choices, I realized that beyond the considerations of colleges’ undergrad sizes, location, cost and ACT score averages, I now had to research each school’s treatment of their Jewish students and their reactions to antisemitism on college campuses. 

Although our “Westport bubble” is relatively safe in terms of antisemitism and has a high Jewish population, I have begun to worry that this safety will be jeopardized when I leave for college.

 According to the ADL, “Since Oct. 7, students who have felt comfortable with others knowing they’re Jewish decreased significantly. 63.7% of Jewish students pre-Oct. 7 felt “very” or “extremely” comfortable but now only 38.6% feel the same.”

What happens if pro-Hamas rallies continue and all that my college’s dean has to say is that punishing people for their remarks is a violation of their free speech? That is pretty much what Elizabeth Magill, ex-president of UPenn said on Dec. 5 while testifying before Congress.  When asked if calling for the genocide of Jews constitutes bullying and harassment, Magill said, “[This] is a context-dependent decision.” 

I don’t think that context is related to the fact that Jewish students are currently in the face of danger without any responsible adults there to protect their rights to a safe college experience. Just because speech is free doesn’t mean that actions should go without consequences.

— Rachel Olefson '25

I don’t think that context is related to the fact that Jewish students are currently in the face of danger without any responsible adults there to protect their rights to a safe college experience. Just because speech is free doesn’t mean that actions should go without consequences.

  The most shocking part of my research for safe college campuses for Jewish students is the fact that so few actually have Jewish student groups like Hillel or Chabad. One study done by Sage Journals found that of the nearly 4,000 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States, only about a quarter of American college campuses have these groups. 

This is a personal requirement for selecting a college, and that leaves only about 1000 schools to choose from. So, after factoring in my other requirements like location and school size, plus the fact that many schools featuring Jewish student groups have faced recent antisemitic attacks in the past two months and are no longer on my list of “safe” schools, my shortlist seems to be shrinking by the hour.

College is supposed to bridge the gap between our childhood bubble and the seemingly cruel world of adulthood. However, paying an astronomical amount in tuition to be in a space full of hate speech that lacks protection from adults seems to be quite the opposite. Instead of being led across the metaphorical bridge over four years, students are instead being shoved off a cliff into the deep, dark ocean of adulthood.

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About the Contributor
Rachel Olefson ’25, Web News Editor
Web News Editor Rachel Olefson ’25 strives to build skills. From the age of two, Olefson has skied to improve and enjoy quality family time.  “[The mountain] is a place I can kind of do whatever I want,” Olefson said. “It gets me away from the stress of school.”  In the classroom, Olefson remains eager to grow. For her, Inklings is a collaborative space to strengthen her writing and graphic design expertise.    “You get to meet people that maybe you wouldn't be friends with otherwise,” Olefson said, “and work with people who have a lot of different strengths.”

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