campus concerns

Jewish students recount a series of campus horror stories at congressional roundtable

Students from nine top schools from around the country offered strikingly similar accounts of the explosion of antisemitism on their campuses and their administrations’ failure to respond

Frank Schulenburg

Stanford University

For two hours on Wednesday, lawmakers heard from a parade of Jewish students, each delivering the same message: They do not feel safe on their college campuses.

Speaking to a roundtable organized by the House Committee on Education & the Workforce, Jewish students from Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia, Rutgers, Stanford, Tulane, Cooper Union and University of California, Berkeley spoke about about the harassment, threats and violence they’ve faced on their campuses since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The students’ accounts were all remarkably similar, despite coming from a range of locations and school types, including openly antisemitic taunts and harassment, angry mobs rampaging through campus and overtaking campus buildings, vandalism and in some cases threats of or actual incidents of violence, all going largely or completely unaddressed by university administrators and campus police, despite repeated and sustained pleas from the students for help and support. 

In some cases, the students said professors and administrators were complicit or actively involved in the antisemitic activity. Students said that they feared for their safety and even their lives.

The students, saying they felt abandoned by their universities and had no faith in them to act to protect them, pleaded for action from Congress. They said that they hoped their testimony could serve as a wakeup call to both Congress and the American public.

“As my friends from Harvard and UPenn can tell you, it doesn’t end simply because presidents are replaced. Systemic change is needed,” Kevin Feigelis, a Stanford student, said. “Universities have proven they have no intention of fixing themselves. It must be you, and it must be now.”

Shabbos Kestenbaum — a Harvard student who said he’d contacted the school’s antisemitism task force more than 40 times without a response and had been threatened in a video with a machete by a still-employed Harvard staff member — called Congress and the courts the students’ “last hope.”

Multiple students and lawmakers said that the current events on campus carry echoes of 1930s Germany or the pogroms in Russia.

Some suggested potential courses of action that Congress and other federal branches could take, including leveraging U.S. taxpayer funding or the schools’ tax-exempt statuses, placing third-party monitors on campus and enforcing diversity requirements in Middle East studies departments requiring them to include pro-Israel views.

Students from Harvard, Penn and MIT all said that little has changed on their campuses since last year’s blockbuster congressional hearing on campus antisemitism, which prompted the ouster of Harvard and Penn’s presidents.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the committee’s chair, vowed that she and her colleagues would not stop their efforts to tackle antisemitism on campus.

“I was very emotional,” Foxx told Jewish Insider, “I’m a mother and a grandmother. I have one grandchild who went to college and I’m not sure what I would have done if he had come home to say he felt threatened on his campus like these students feel threatened. No student on a college campus, in this country, in the year 2024, should feel threatened.”
Foxx said that the committee’s antisemitism investigation is proceeding deliberately, but that the schools will be held to account. The committee has already requested documents from Harvard, Penn and Columbia and has now subpoenaed Harvard. Foxx suggested that other schools whose students had appeared Thursday could be next.

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