Temple University's Blue Ribbon Commission on Antisemitism and University Responses recently met for the first time in an all-day workshop to address the rising levels of hate across American university campuses and how Temple can create a more inclusive and supportive sense of community for its Jewish students, faculty and staff.
"One thing that came out of our workshop was our understanding of the infrastructure that Temple already has in place to form a robust and meaningful response to educate our campus community about antisemitism and give our Jewish students support," said Lila Corwin Berman, the Murray Friedman Chair of American Jewish History at Temple University and the commission's co-chair.
President Jason Wingard established the Blue Ribbon Commission on Antisemitism and University Responses earlier this year. "There is strength in numbers and power in diversity of thought," said Wingard. "It is important to address the issue of antisemitism on campus by bringing together an esteemed group of experienced individuals who can think about this problem and its solutions in a comprehensive and collaborative way."
The commission is made up of 20 representatives with a wide range of views, including Andrew Goretsky, the regional director for the Anti-Defamation League; Jonathan Broder, co-chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Community Engagement Committee; Marcia Bronstein, the regional director of American Jewish Committee; and Laura Levitt, a professor of Religion, Jewish Studies and Gender at Temple University. Susanna Lachs, the former chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, co-chairs the commission along with Berman.
President Wingard tasked the group with reviewing the resources the university already has to support the Jewish community on campus, provide recommendations on where the university could enhance its support to these students, and recommend ways in which the university could develop a more proactive approach to instances of antisemitism.
The workshop, held on April 27, was a culmination of the group's research. They spent the first half of the day analyzing recent instances of antisemitism that have occurred on university campuses across the country. In the second half of the day, they presented and discussed recommendations that would allow Temple to proactively address antisemitism and better support its Jewish students.
The commission found that Temple already had a strong foundation of resources for supporting Jewish students and educating the campus community about antisemitism that could be broken into four categories:
- educational resources—including an internship course for students interested in Jewish-related career opportunities and popular course offerings such as Race & Judaism, Antisemitism, Holocaust, Racism and Introduction to the Bible;
- student-life resources—including Hillel at Temple, Chabad Jewish Organization and Meor Temple Student Group;
- student and staff training resources—including Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership orientation sessions for all students and the university's participation in the Hillel/ADL Campus Climate Initiative; and
- incident response resources—including more inclusive amendments to the student conduct code and regular training sessions for the Student Conduct Board.
"Moving forward, Temple can continue to develop the resources that it has and build more infrastructure to open up space for free inquiry," said Berman. "Free inquiry is critical at universities like ours but it can only happen when the diversity of the campus community feels like they are supported and they are in a hospitable environment for their learning and identity," she added.
The commission identified three ways Temple could more proactively address antisemitism in the future. These involve frequent and clear communication about community values and policies that foster a learning environment free from harassment and discrimination, and the creation of a working group that focuses on understanding and communicating the needs of diverse groups at Temple.
In addition, the group highlighted the importance of investing in educational experiences that expand the campus community's understanding of diversity. They noted that these opportunities should be implemented in a number of ways beyond traditional classroom learning. In particular, the commission pointed to President Wingard as a model for this type of learning and cited his upcoming trip to Israel in June as an example.
From June 13 through June 21, a presidential delegation is taking part in an academic exchange in Israel. During this trip, they hope to strengthen academic partnerships with institutions of higher education, engage with alumni, and meet with civic and business leaders and government officials. The Temple delegation plans to make diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives a priority in these conversations.
"Similar to every other university across the country, and throughout societal organizations as a whole, we are facing extremism and rising levels of hatred directed at many different groups—both on campus and in our Philadelphia community," said Wingard. "This situation requires universities to continue to invest in, and grow, their ability to respond to instances of discriminatory behavior and educate future generations in a way that can stem the flow of this hatred and become a dynamic part of its solution," he added.
- Ashleigh DeLuca