It takes teamwork

Antisemitism and diversity, equity and inclusion: Solidarity is the answer

In Short

How Trinity College's administrators and students brought the campus together to combat antisemitism

As professionals at Trinity College — an on-campus Hillel director and a vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion — we wanted to respond to the recently released U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism. We applaud the strategy’s stated goals of: 1) incorporating antisemitic bias and discrimination training programs into diversity, equity and inclusion work; and 2) increasing cross-community solidarity and collective action to counter antisemitism and other forms of hate. We have already begun to successfully implement this strategy at Trinity, and we offer our approach as a potential model for other campuses to adopt.

In early September 2022, three swastikas were carved into a Jewish student’s bedroom door inside a residence hall at Trinity. Prior to this incident, Trinity had been a “quiet campus” — one without a lot of anti-Israel protests or antisemitic incidents targeting Jewish students. The swastikas shocked and upset many students on campus, including non-Jewish students of color who empathized with the experience of being the target of hate. At the same time, many Jewish students reported that some of their white non-Jewish friends didn’t really understand what was so upsetting about the swastikas.

Two weeks after the incident, Trinity College Hillel hosted a Solidarity Sharing Circle so that Jewish students could share with the wider community how the swastikas impacted them, and other students, faculty and administrators could demonstrate support. Despite Hillel student leaders’ fears that attendance would be low, approximately 150 people showed up for the event  — an incredible turnout on a campus of 2,200 students! Attendees included a diverse group of students, several high-level college administrators, and members of the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

In the wake of that powerful event, a broad coalition of campus stakeholders led by Hillel and the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion came together to craft a holistic plan for supporting Jewish members of our campus community. Since then, we have co-sponsored educational events and workshops focused on how to recognize and disrupt antisemitism. This fall, all first-years and student leaders will be required to attend antisemitism training sessions as part of an orientation schedule that includes training programs on microaggressions, sexual consent and other valuable tools for good citizenship on campus. While a few other campuses offer antisemitism training sessions that are either optional and/or incentivized, Trinity’s mandated training sessions focused exclusively on antisemitism are unprecedented.

Trinity was able to take this important step in responding to antisemitism by developing and implementing a strategy focused on allyship and solidarity. We stressed from the get-go that antisemitism, racism and all other forms of hate are inextricably linked, and that any teaching addressing antisemitism should show how it first and foremost directly impacts and harms Jews, and secondarily how it harms all members of our society. This is why everyone has a stake in fighting antisemitism — Jewish and non-Jewish, as neighbors and allies — and as people working together to foster a tolerant, multiracial, multireligious democracy with strong, transparent institutions. In our experience, allyship is the best approach for creating a campus culture that is committed to combating antisemitism alongside all other forms of hate.

The specific tactics that have been highly effective at Trinity College include:

  1. Consistently involve student leaders, faculty, and staff (of color, white, Jewish, non-Jewish) in antisemitism program planning and seek their input into the content and format of all events and initiatives.
  2. Emphasize that antisemitism and racism are equally foundational to white supremacy, and the ways that we can work together to confront white supremacy.
  3. Uphold the intersectional identities of the significant proportion of Jews who hold multiple marginalized identities and therefore are able to lead as connectors in building cross-communal coalitions.
  4. Convey the complexity and nuance involved in defining Judaism and antisemitism.
  5. Campus administrators such as the college chaplain and vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion provide opening remarks at events that frame the work to confront antisemitism within the context of Trinity’s core commitment to fostering a healthy, respectful and inclusive community.

We have found that like all on-campus endeavors, relationships are key. Our offices have been able to work closely together because of our relationship, and the relationships among student groups, particularly communities of color and Hillel. Recognizing that this work looks different depending on the campus, we humbly offer our experience with the hope that it will serve as a helpful resource for others.

Rabbi Rachel Putterman is director of Hillel and associate chaplain at Trinity College and

Anita Davis is the college’s vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion.