IT FEELS LIKE everyday a new act of anti-Semitism pops up in my newsfeed. Many incidents occurring on campuses with quite a few in California. UC Irvine (UCI) is unfortunately the most well-known for anti-Semitic incidents, specifically the ones that occur every year in May, known as “anti-Zionism week” or, in some circles, “Hate Week”. Since I last stepped foot onto campus, the university has and continues to make great strides in promoting a safe environment for its students.
UCI’s Jewish Studies Director and Teller Family Chair in Jewish History, Professor Matthias Lehmann, attests that the university takes anti-Semitism very seriously. For instance, the campus’ commitment to providing a safe place for students can be seen in the new Center for Jewish Studies set to launch in the Fall.
If you’re an incoming student and hesitant, maybe even fearful, here is how UCI is providing ways for students (Jewish and non-Jewish alike) to explore Jewish society and culture:
Join A Club!
UCI offers several organizations for students to join and explore their Jewish identities, including a fraternity and a sorority (Alpha Epsilon Pi and Phi, respectively), Hillel, Chabad, Jewish Law Association, and Students Supporting Israel. Other organizations exist to help build relations between communities: Olive Tree Initiative incorporates experiential learning and helps promote conflict analysis and resolution, and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East is dedicated to inspiring discussions regarding Middle East issues. Student organizations like these can play an integral role in facilitating discourse and encouraging collaborations among other student organizations, especially those responsible for anti-Semitic incidents.
Take a Course!
UCI School of Humanities has a Jewish Studies program providing courses (and a minor, if you’re so inclined like I was!) that explore topics like American Jewry, the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism. Professor Lehmann believes that Jewish Studies programs can play a crucial role in confronting anti-Semitism “by offering an environment in which students, Jewish or not, can explore Jewish society and culture in past and present.” He continues saying that Jewish Studies can empower students to find their own voice regarding Israel. Maybe you’ll feel so empowered, you’ll spend a semester in Israel! The university’s partnership with Israel makes programs like study abroad possible.
Go to the Library!
The library, a campus resource often overlooked, can play a bigger role in a variety of ways by ensuring that students feel safe being open not only about their identities, but also about having discussions. Libraries can showcase materials that portray different representations of Israel throughout history in an exhibit, fulfilling Professor Lehmann’s desire for the university to move beyond “one-sided narratives.” Special collections and archives will engage students and provide hands-on experience researching primary sources.
Though it may be too soon to judge the success of these initiatives, Professor Lehmann is confident that the university is making progress. At the same time, he believes that “we need greater support from the Jewish community to help us build Jewish Studies into a stronger and more robust program.” The students, university, and community all must play an active role in making UCI a safe space for Jewish and non-Jewish students alike.
For more information on UCI’s initiatives, see “The Alignment of UCI’s Policies, Principles, and Programs with the UC Regents’ Principles Against Intolerance” (http://inclusion.uci.edu/2016/10/21/higher-ground/).
Dvorah Lewis is the Genealogy & Local History Librarian for the California State Sutro Library.