(May 19, 2019 / JNS) College might be the place where you found your career, met your significant other or forged friendships that would last a lifetime. One way or another, your alma mater likely played a significant role in making you the person you’ve become today.
Now, imagine that your alma mater’s faculty sought to end the school’s study-abroad program with an Israeli university. Suddenly, the institution you felt embodied your values has instead gone down the path of exclusion and discrimination.
That exact scenario played out this semester when the Pitzer College Council voted to suspend the school’s study-abroad exchange with the University of Haifa. If you were a Pitzer alum, how would you react?
The marginalization of Jewish students and the delegitimization of Israel on campuses nationwide have alumni searching for answers on how to counter the surge of bigotry at their alma maters. Some of the most recent incidents include anti-Semitic flyers and posters at UC Santa Barbara and the University of North Carolina; New York University honoring Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group with a long history of anti-Semitism; and Jewish students at Emory University waking up to eviction notices on their doors.
This is why Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF) is galvanizing alumni like never before to tackle the unprecedented challenges facing Jewish and Zionist students and faculty. Until now, no organization has harnessed the untapped power of alumni to defend campus communities from discrimination. We are taking alumni off the sidelines, mobilizing them across the country to speak out about anti-Semitism at their alma maters.
Rather than viewing themselves as powerless or voiceless while current events unfold on campus, alumni can become the missing piece in countering bigotry, bringing years of practical and professional experience to the table.
Naturally, alumni have a vested interest in a variety of outcomes for their schools. But going beyond an institution’s academic reputation or the success of its sports teams, many alumni care deeply about their alma mater’s campus climate. After all, that was the very environment where they experienced their own transformative journeys.
Universities should be pillars of truth, academic freedom and open discourse. Alums for Campus Fairness holds university administration accountable to these values, which should not be compromised for any group, including Jewish students and their allies.
ACF puts the unique asset of alumni into action by equipping them with information through webinars, social media platforms and regular news updates. That empowers alumni to start petitions, publish op-eds, pen open letters to administrations and spearhead closed-door meetings with university leaders.
This momentum isn’t achieved overnight. We continuously amplify the voices of alumni from these universities and work proactively with administrators to avert discrimination against students and faculty who support Israel.
When Syracuse University offered academic credit to students who interned with the openly anti-Israel Syracuse Peace Council (SPC), ACF launched a petition calling for change from Syracuse. The school’s provost condemned SPC’s history of anti-Semitism.
When SJP held its national conference at UCLA and openly called for the destruction of Zionism, ACF, working with partners on the ground, brought this event to the attention of the administration. While working with Hillel, Students Support Israel, StandWithUs and others, we helped create a safe environment for students and faculty through positive programming.
And when University of Michigan instructors refused to write letters of recommendation for Israel-bound students, ACF mobilized more than 400 alumni to contact the administration, write op-eds and circulate petitions. Subsequently, the university sanctioned one of the instructors and established a faculty-led panel to examine future incidents.
As Jewish and Zionist students and faculty continue to confront challenges, the campus climate will remain a prominent concern for alumni. We are primed and ready to respond. Join us and make a difference at your alma mater.
Avi D. Gordon is the executive director of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF).