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Elite Schools Are Not Ideal for Jewish Students

Recent surveys have shown that 55 percent of students have had to hide their support for Israel and almost three-quarters of students state that they actively hide their Jewish identity on campus today.
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March 29, 2023
Students walk on campus at Princeton University on February 4, 2020 in Princeton, New Jersey. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

Antisemitism is rampant on college and university campuses nationwide. Recent surveys have shown that 55 percent of students have had to hide their support for Israel and almost three-quarters of students state that they actively hide their Jewish identity on campus today. Over half of the students (55 percent) surveyed report being subjected to campus antisemitism and 72 percent do not believe that collegiate administrators take this threat seriously. The Anti-Defamation League tracks incidents of antisemitism on collegiate campuses and found that the numbers have increased more than threefold to 155 incidents in 2021 from 47 in 2014. The ADL has recorded hundreds of separate cases of anti-Israel incidents on campus in the past year alone. More troubling is that almost three-quarters of Jewish students reported that they had personally experienced or “were familiar with” a recent collegiate-based act of antisemitism. As a direct result of this dangerous environment, almost half of the Jewish students on campus have hidden their Jewish identities and have avoided expressing their often positive views on Israel in 2021.

Jewish families with high school students looking at colleges for the fall are right to worry about sending their kids into such a hostile climate. Fortunately, there is one course of action that these families can take: They can look outside the traditional paths most Jewish students take. They can think about schools in the South and in the West that are far more ideologically balanced and open to diversity at levels notably higher than those schools in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions.

Data from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression reported in 2022 reveal that Jewish collegiate students tend to cluster in a particular set of schools. Yet these schools tend to be among the most problematic for Jewish students as they are ideologically monolithic and hold illiberal, anti-Jewish sentiments that are dangerous for Jewish students today.

According to the data, just under two-thirds (63 percent) of Jewish students attend private colleges and universities, while 63 percent of the students in the country attend public schools. Within the Jewish community, almost a third (32 percent) attend elite, top 25 schools, and another quarter (26 percent) attend the top 50 schools, per US News. Nationally, just a third (33 percent) attend colleges within the top 50.

About 45 percent of Jewish students attend schools within New England and the Mid-Atlantic, which is where a considerable cluster of elite schools are located. Yet nationally, just over a quarter (26 percent) attend schools in New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

This clustering of Jewish students matters because the elite, Northeast schools are associated with the presence of large numbers of progressive faculty members and activist administrators. These faculty and administrators are the types of academics and staff who typically see Israel as an occupier or apartheid state and who see Jews as members of the power elite and the oppressor class who have caused harm for decades, and who often hold other fairly antisemitic views.  At these schools, student bodies and administrations are open to canceling and disrupting speakers they find objectionable and fail to embrace the value of viewpoint diversity and open discourse.

It is critical that the Jewish community recognizes that these elite, northeast schools are overwhelmingly left-of-center and that means that they are not friendly to Jews regardless of their stated values of openness and acceptance for all. These schools have broadly adopted views that place American Jews on the wrong side of racial politics, link Israel to racism in the U.S., have created a campus climate hostile to Zionists, promote diversity programs that exclude Jews, and shun Jewish participation in campus culture and open expression more generally. Collectively these tendencies increase the likelihood that Jewish students will feel neither safe nor open to think, question and thrive.

It is critical that the Jewish community recognizes that these elite, northeast schools are overwhelmingly left-of-center and that means that they are not friendly to Jews regardless of their stated values of openness and acceptance for all.

Jewish students can try to push back but doing so may be dangerous for them and their reputations. While it is certainly hard to walk away from admission to places like Princeton or Tufts, Jewish students, and their families, may need to look into schools in other regions such as the West and the South. Students nationwide have realized that schools outside the northeast are far more open to diversity in all forms and are less progressively uniform—Jewish students should take note. While no region in America is a politically balanced utopia, the West and South see far lower rates of self-censorship, fear of cancellation, and significantly more ideological steadiness. Schools in states like Florida and North Carolina are pushing back against the dangerous thinking from diversity offices and departments infected by so-called “anti-racist” thinking that is dangerous to the Jewish community. Thus, Jewish students and their families would be well served to look away from the Northeast and think about schools elsewhere that actually care about learning as well as protecting, promoting and welcoming real forms of diversity.

Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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