US campus antisemitism survey: University of Vermont had most reported cases in 2021

Report by advocacy group tallies antisemitic incidents in colleges, finds most occurred in person and not online

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: The campus of the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont, March 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Illustrative: The campus of the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont, March 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A survey of US college antisemitism released on Monday found that most incidents in 2021 took place in person, not online, and that the worst-affected region was the US northeast.

The college leading in incidents was the University of Vermont, with 58 reported cases of antisemitism.

The advocacy group Jewish on Campus collected testimony of antisemitic incidents from students last year and collated the data for Monday’s report.

The report largely focused on the US and Canada, which made up 95.5 percent of reports. It included reporting from several other countries, but very few reports were submitted to the group outside North America.

There were 544 total incidents from 11 countries, 41 US states and 228 universities. The incidents were self-reported by students, not collected in a formal survey.

Jewish on Campus was founded in 2020 and partnered with the World Jewish Congress last year.

The report said 72 percent of incidents took place in person and 28% happened online, despite many classes taking place virtually. Most incidents involved the use of traditional antisemitic tropes and the demonization of Israel.

Students were responsible for 316 antisemitic incidents and professors for 122. Complete data was not available for every reported incident.

The leading US states for total incidents were Massachusetts, Vermont, New York and California. The high number of incidents in those states was likely correlated with larger Jewish student populations and the studentry’s progressive politics.

After the University of Vermont, the leading universities were Tufts, George Washington, Rutgers and the University of Chicago.

The University of Vermont said in response to the report, “At the University of Vermont, we strive to maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all members of our community.

“Our stance on biased behavior is clear: We don’t tolerate it. We have multiple processes in place for incident reporting. And we have follow-up procedures that support impacted members of our community and hold accountable those responsible.”

The progressive Jewish-American activist group IfNotNow disputed the report, saying the results were anecdotal and unrepresentative, and that the survey conflated anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

“The report from Jewish on Campus is an attempt to use highly-selective and skewed data to further a false narrative that the most urgent threat to Jewish safety is from student critics of Israeli policy, when every major hate crime statistic shows that it comes from the political right,” IfNotNow said in a statement.

A campaign against antisemitism in New York City, August 12, 2021. (Luke Tress/Flash90)

Rabbi Zalman Wilhelm, head of the University of Vermont’s Chabad center, said most antisemitic incidents he heard of on campus happened quietly, in individual interactions among students and faculty.

The underground nature of the incidents meant many students do not directly feel antisemitism on campus, even if it is present. The overall number of reported incidents was small compared to the large Jewish student population.

“If they don’t know to look out for it they wouldn’t necessarily see things unless they encounter it,” he said. “A lot of little incidents happen, so there are students that feel it a lot and are very affected by it and there are others that don’t even know it exists.”

Even if most Jewish students have not directly experienced antisemitism, they feel social pressure on the progressive campus.

“There are a lot of students that are scared to identify as Jewish or scared to share their opinions because ‘what is everyone else going to say.’ They don’t want to be kicked out of their circles or be bashed on social media,” Wilhelm said.

He said the problem was getting worse on campus and was linked to political trends in the US.

Wilhelm, who has been at the University of Vermont since 2006, called on the university administration to “stand strongly and call out any antisemitism.”

“The university should take every incident seriously and make sure that this is a safe environment for everyone. We don’t want antisemitism here. Antisemitism is not welcomed in Vermont,” he said.

The university’s Hillel center said it had the support of the administration, even as Jewish students experienced a rise in antisemitism, like other campuses. The center said it was working with University of Vermont partners on several fronts to support Jewish students.

Illustrative: Anti-Israel protesters call for an intifada at a protest in New York City, September 17, 2021. (Luke Tress/Flash90)

The report was released amid ongoing controversy over antisemitism and Jewish identity in the US education system, including on college campuses.

Last week, the US Department of Education said it had opened an investigation into alleged harassment of Jewish students at New York City’s Brooklyn College.

Professors at the college accused Jewish students of perpetrating racial oppression, and other students openly discussed violence against them, according to the complaint that led to the investigation.

The school’s administration ignored complaints from Jewish students and allowed a “hostile environment” to fester on campus, in violation of civil rights law, the complaint alleged.

Last month, six professors from the City University of New York, the public university system that Brooklyn College belongs to, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against their union, calling it “antisemitic, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel.”

On Monday, the Anti-Defamation League said it had asked the University of Chicago to take action against its chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, after the student group called for a boycott of “Sh*tty Zionist classes.”

The classes included courses called “Gender relations in Israel,” “Multiculturalism in Israel,” and “Narrating Israel and Palestine through Literature and Film.”

The student group said the courses were part of a “propaganda campaign that creates complicity in the continuation of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”

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