Confronting and reporting hate on campuses and beyond
New York City joined a disturbing national trend in 2022: the rise of antisemitic crimes. According to the New York Police Department, antisemitic crimes across the five boroughs jumped by 125% since last year. These increases are leaving communities and New Yorkers rattled, including our own at the City University of New York (CUNY). With antisemitic attacks and speech on the rise around our country, our cities and our campuses, colleges and universities have a unique obligation to tackle the hate head-on.
CUNY has a rich and storied history of partnership with and service to Jewish New Yorkers, which once earned the City College of New York the moniker “The Jewish Harvard.” Today we have Jewish studies programs at City College, the Graduate Center, Hunter College and Queens College, to name a few, and a growing partnership with Hillel International. This year we look forward to working with Hillel’s Campus Climate Initiative, which works with over 40 colleges and universities to end antisemitism and build safe learning environments where all students can thrive — regardless of their race or religion. While we celebrate this, we also recognize that more needs to be done locally and globally to combat antisemitism and bigotry in all forms.
Last month, we launched a university-wide reporting portal that provides employees, students, visitors and the public with a uniform mechanism to report instances of hate speech, violence, discrimination and retaliation. This portal sends a direct notice of the report to both the president or dean and the chief diversity officer of the college or colleges mentioned in that report. This tool provides our university system with the opportunity to conduct detailed analysis to identify trends and patterns to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion programming. We want to know about all forms of hate, including antisemitism, happening at CUNY so we can best tackle this national problem on our campuses and in our system.
We know reporting isn’t enough and we have taken steps to help prevent hate and increase tolerance and understanding. CUNY this year dedicated $750,000 in new funds to be distributed among all CUNY campuses for programs, training and events that work to address antisemitism and other forms of bias. These funds will sponsor guest speakers’ series and table talks and expand our training of campus administrators and student leaders to help them understand and respond to the various forms of bias. This investment – along with additional city council funding for existing programs on campuses to address hate that I lobbied for since I became chancellor – will help create a safer, more inclusive campus climate building upon existing programs and activities.
To advance CUNY’s own understanding of best practices for coping with conflict, I led a delegation of 12 CUNY college presidents and deans on a study tour of Israel and the West Bank last spring. We met with educators, students and leaders who have been immersed in the job of strengthening relationships between Israel’s diverse ethnic and religious groups as well as with its neighbors. We visited Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Sapir College, where they are doing remarkable work with students to build communication. The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which sponsored the trip, is also helping expand our exchange programs and academic programs in Israel.
These are important steps, but the work of confronting hate cannot rest. It is ongoing and requires constant attention and dialogue. I urge my peers – other leaders in higher education in New York City and beyond – to step up at this moment. Already New York’s political leadership has sent a clear message that there is no tolerance for hate in our communities. Last month, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a new hate and bias prevention unit at the state Division of Human Rights, while New York City Mayor Eric Adams spoke about at a conference in Greece about ways to fight antisemitism.
CUNY and all higher education institutions have a critical role to play in addressing the hate that plagues college campuses and harms our Jewish colleagues and students. As we are responsible for the next generation of leaders, it is our duty to lead by example.
Felix Matos Rodriguez is chancellor of City University of New York.