Raising a Jewish family in Tennessee can be challenging. From the first day of Little League our kids have felt “othered;” they are often the only. They have been told they are going to hell, not been fed on class trips when there were no kosher options offered, and had to navigate missing out on events planned on major Holy Days.
Being a Jewish family in Tennessee is also wonderful. The Jewish community is filled with diversity and support. There is an intentionality not often experienced in larger communities, and a pride, strength and resiliency that grows from making a conscious decision every day to not hide who you are.
When looking at colleges, our son intentionally sought out schools with engaged Jewish populations; where he would meet other Jewish students in an english or a math class, not just at Hillel. He wanted to feel safe and wanted to experience being part of a group.
The recent appearance of two swastikas on the IC campus have shattered that sense of safety. Some of my son’s friends are reaching out to him to say that they are afraid to wear a necklace that identifies them as Jewish or carry a water bottle with Ithaca in Hebrew letters. He also has had conversations with peers who do not understand why it’s that big of a deal.
Outside of the Bomber Bubble, conversations swirl about whether the Jewish people are a race, whether the taking of hostages at a synagogue is an antisemitic act, why we are still talking about the Holocaust when it happened “so long ago.” These conversations miss the point. Of course, there are global messages to be learned from the Holocaust. We understand that when good people stand by and do nothing, horrific consequences follow. We understand that the assignment of one group of people as “less than” (whether that be because of skin color, religion, sexual orientation, or ability) is false and harmful. AND we know that the drawing of a swastika is a specific act intended to make a specific group of people feel afraid.
This is unacceptable anywhere in society, but especially at an institution of higher education where our children can learn as much outside of the classroom as inside by meeting people from a multiplicity of backgrounds and coming to appreciate each other’s differences.
A college campus must not become a campus of hatred and fear. It must not be a place where some of our children feel “othered.” Ithaca College must be a campus where students treat each other with respect, where they are encouraged to step outside of their comfort zones and learn from one another.
Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I encourage you to discuss this issue with your student; to challenge them to interact with students from different backgrounds in a meaningful way; to develop empathy as a tool that will help them move through the world successfully long after their time at Ithaca. We must find a united path forward. One in which we are all willing to take risks and be upstanders when we see harmful behaviors. We must do our part to ensure that Ithaca College is a place where students can live and learn without fear and without bias towards each other.