National rise in anti-Semitism prompts some concern among members of community

New York State has experienced a proliferation of hate crimes targeting the Jewish population and minority groups across college campuses due to a divisive political atmosphere, according to The New York Times. This is creating consternation among some Jewish students and other groups on-campus.

Anti-Semitic incidents increased nationwide by 57 percent in 2017, according to an annual report by the International Jewish Non-Governmental Organization, Anti-Defamation League. The ADL also reported a 90 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in New York State specifically.

College campuses have similarly experienced an increase in activities by white supremacists by more than 250 percent, according to a separate report by the ADL from February 2018. Many of these incidents include replicating a swastika on school premises or Jewish students’ possessions, The New York Times reported.

From January to October 2016, there were a total of two bias-related incidents reported at Geneseo, according to Chief of University Police Thomas Kilcullen. Following the election of President Donald Trump between November and December of 2016, that number increased to 13, Kilcullen said. 

There were a total of six bias-related incidents reported at Geneseo in 2017, Kilcullen said. These incidents included a swastika drawn in Nassau Residence Hall and “KKK” written on the exterior of the gazebo located on central campus. 

These incidents prompted an investigation by the college with UPD and led to a series of procedures to appropriately handle the situation, according to Interim Chief Diversity Officer robbie routenberg.

“Every report that comes in is taken very seriously, acted on quickly and appropriate processes are engaged,” routenberg said. “What’s difficult is that people don’t always know what’s happening and some of that is because a lot of these processes are confidential. It can feel like you don’t know that anything else happened.” 

Chief Executive Officer of the ADL Jonathan Greenblatt identified three likely factors for the nationwide increase in anti-Semitism: “the increasingly divisive state of American politics, the emboldening of extremists, and the effects of social media,” as reported by The New York Times.

These sentiments are reflected by Laura Matthews, program coordinator at Geneseo Hillel, a Jewish community organization.

“It’s a stressful political time and I think that some sentiments clearly have always been there and people felt that they couldn’t express them and now they feel that they can,” Matthews said. “Ultimately, maybe this is really showing us the things that we as a society need to work on.”

One solution to preventing the rise in anti-Semitic driven crime is continuing to increase conversations regarding these issues, according to Matthews.

“Definitely having preventative open dialogues which the college is doing with their ‘Cultivating Community’ series and realizing that it’s not just one group that’s being targeted,” Matthews said. 

“The Hillel organization on this campus is in a unique position where we are partly related to the college but we’re also affiliated with Hillel International and [the Jewish Federation of Rochester,” Matthews said. “I try to convey that to my students that we’re supported, not just from SUNY Geneseo, but from our media, larger community and from our international community.”

While instances of overt anti-Semitism increased after the presidential election, such sentiments also existed beforehand, according to Hillel president junior Nicole Spencer. 

“I don’t even know if it’s a rise in anti-Semitism, or if it’s a rise in outward anti-Semitism,” Spencer said. “I do think those thoughts have always been there, but they just haven’t been in the open, and I noticed that people are a lot keener on letting their hateful thoughts be known.” 

The incidents with the swastikas impacted members of the Jewish student population on-campus, according to Matthews.

“One of my students said he didn’t feel comfortable wearing a yarmulke for a while after that happened and at this time of year I’ve been getting calls from prospective students and from parents,” Matthews said. “So far I’ve been pretty fortunate to be able to say that it’s not as big a problem as there certainly is on other campuses.” 

Hillel has tried to engage in further dialogue with other student faith organizations on-campus to establish support against hate crimes overall, according to Spencer.  

Increases in anti-Semitic acts can create discomfort for students of other minority groups as well, Routenberg said. 

“We start to see more overt behaviors and I think that then has an impact on how safe people feel, and not just how safe Jewish people feel, which is obviously very relevant,” routenberg said. “But symbols like that point to roots of hatred or bigotry that make other people feel unsafe too by association.”

“I worry about when things like that are happening, not just how it impacts the groups that might be seen as the most targeted, but just the general climate that’s shaped and how that impacts lots of people,” Routenberg said.