Web Site Provides Tools To Combat Bias on Campus

Published August 07, 2007, issue of August 10, 2007.
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A recently launched Web site aimed at combating antisemitism on college campuses has generated “a huge and gratifying response,” according to Kenneth Marcus, staff director of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

The commission launched the site — including information about what antisemitism is, what can be done about it and whom to contact for help — this past spring. Since then, Marcus said, students and faculty have contacted the organization about bias on various campuses, and the commission “helped them find the right agency” to inform.

Marcus said that campus antisemitism is “a serious problem that warrants further attention.” He first noticed the severity of the problem when serving as head of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and he wanted to do something about it when he was appointed to the commission in December 2004.

The commission held a formal briefing on the subject in November 2005, because members wanted to hear more information about it by experts before deciding what to do about the problem. Representatives from the American Jewish Congress, the Institute for Jewish & Community Research and the Zionist Organization of America gave briefings and fielded questions from the commissioners. Panelists discussed incidents of antisemitism all over the country.

College campuses can be “islands of antisemitism,” Sarah Stern, founder and president of the think tank Emet, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, told the Forward. Stern, who was the AJCongress’s director of governmental and public affairs when the briefing was held, spoke before the commission about her research on the subject. Often, Middle Eastern studies departments “have a political agenda, and have hijacked objective scholarship,” she told the Forward. Antisemitism can be camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism, as well, creating “a double standard with Israel as a generator of perfidy,” Stern said.

Based on the briefing, the commission released a report about campus antisemitism, but “it was not enough simply to issue a report,” Marcus said. While originally thinking of releasing pamphlets or making public service announcements on the radio, the commission chose to do more, and decided that the best way to reach college students was through the Internet. Members solicited thoughts and ideas from many civil rights and Jewish groups, including Hillel, ZOA and the Anti-Defamation League, to determine “how best to present the message,” Marcus said.

“We’re very pleased,” said Jeff Rubin, a Hillel spokesman. With Hillel being an important part of Jewish life on many campuses, the group was able to lend its expertise on the best way to reach college students.

The result is a Web site (www.eusccr.com) that works both as an informational tool about what defines antisemitism and as a way for those who believe that there is a condoned atmosphere of antisemitism at their school to find out what their protection is — and how the government can enforce that protection. Those wishing to file a complaint can use the Web site to find an appropriate agency, or to contact the commission directly for help. Marcus notes that sometimes those wishing to speak out “have been afraid of retaliation,” but now, with the Web site, they are better able to deal with antisemitism both in and outside the classroom.

The site “will inform students so they can speak out,” Marcus said. “They don’t have to take it in silence.”

“It’s an important statement,” said Ken Jacobson, deputy national director of the ADL. Jacobson said that having the commission working as part of the larger effort to combat antisemitism on campus could have a positive effect as one of the many efforts to fight the issue at colleges.

In addition to the Web site, the commission has created posters and postcards to help spread awareness about campus antisemitism. Representatives of the commission also speak on college campuses about civil rights issues, including antisemitism.

“My hope,” Marcus said, “is that this public education campaign will make campuses more welcoming.”

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