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How to Combat Campus Anti-Semitism? Organize.
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The View From Campus

How to Combat Campus Anti-Semitism? Organize.

You can't fight back without getting a seat at the table, writes a Florida State University student.

Artie White/Flickr Commons
Artie White/Flickr Commons

Florida State University, like many other educational institutions, is far from immune to anti-Semitism.

As a proud Jewish student halfway through my undergraduate degree, I was shocked when I learned of a series of anti-Semitic remarks made by our new student senate president. These span from 2012 to the present and range from Facebook posts and tweets to a full-fledged website comparing the Israeli government to the Nazi regime.

In a letter of apology, he said he realized the remarks were “wrong and offensive”; the university’s president described his posts as “offensive anti-Semitic rhetoric” and said the university will “not tolerate discrimination against groups or individuals.” Nevertheless, the senate president has not been removed.

Keren Bard

It is scary and unfortunate that this is not the first, and likely won’t be the last, instance of anti-Semitism I will personally encounter.

From the fall of 2019 when Nazi flags were being sold on campus at Market Wednesday, a traditional tabling and shopping expo, to the now numerous anti-Semitic comments of the  highest leader in our student government, how am I as a Jewish student meant to feel welcomed and included?

Though I wish the administration would remove the student senate president, there is a lot of debate over the university’s own rules and whether they allow for such direct intervention.

Jewish students feel unheard and disrespected. Incoming freshmen are being exposed to a culture of hate and disdain before they can even set foot on campus. How can we continue to ignore issues plaguing not only our university, but the education system as a whole?

The answer is rather simple. We can’t. Because anti-Semitism is a systemic issue, we need to address it at the administrative leve. But that is a lot easier to say than to actually do.

The longer I pondered how we could be responding to anti-Semitism more effectively, I realized there was a void on my campus — a void I decided to fill by founding a new Jewish organization at FSU: the Jewish Student Union.

Thus far, no Jewish organization on campus has a student government representative.

The idea of the Jewish Student Union was born out of this. Though there are many Jewish organizations on campus, we still can’t seem to garner enough support as a community to get the administration — student or otherwise — to address blatant anti-Semitism.

But as an identity-based union, the Jewish Student Union is automatically given a permanent representative to student government, which allows the Jewish community to sit at the table and bring a Jewish voice to student government.

At FSU, the student government is heavily involved in student life and the distribution of the activity and service fund. Thousands of dollars are allocated to different groups, events and initiatives on campus every year. With Jewish input in student government, we can put some of that funding to good use through educational campaigns about anti-Semitism.

Many students see a need for an independent Jewish identity advocacy organization at Florida State. I and other students wanted an organization that could help be another resource for educating the campus on anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and Jewish culture; a student-driven organization that could speak out against unspeakable hatred against the Jewish people.

As an independent group, we can take risks that more established Jewish organizations may not be willing to take. I am fortunate to be working alongside a team of driven students passionate about their Jewish identity and bringing awareness to our campus of the Jewish community’s perspective.

Though we are at the very beginning of what we hope is a long and successful journey at FSU, I can already see a bright future for the Jewish Student Union. In a time of darkness and hurt, I am so proud that the JSU can serve as the light at the end of the tunnel for the Jewish community at FSU.

As the Jewish Student Union is very new and in its early stages of development, any and all assistance would be welcomed and appreciated. To connect with the JSU, please feel free to search for us under @FSUJSU on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Our Facebook page can be found at FSU Jewish Student Union.

If anyone reading this is contemplating starting their own JSU, or really any union, I encourage you to go for it.It is a lot of hard work, but the support system you are able to create for other members of your community is beyond rewarding. Founding the Jewish Student Union has given me the courage and the platform to be able to make a difference on campus.

Keren Bard is a rising junior studying psychology at FSU. She can be reached at jsupresidentatfsu@gmail.com. The JSU Executive Board can be reached at jsuexecutiveboard@admin.my.fsu.edu.

Debates over Israel, mental health challenges, anti-Semitism, creating a strong Jewish life — young Jews experience a lot in college. The View From Campus is a column for them to tell The Jewish Week, and you, all about it. Want to write for us? Send a draft or pitch to Lev Gringauz at lev@jewishweek.org.

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