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UNC joins Hillel International to fight campus antisemitism

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UNC-Chapel Hill is joining the Hillel International’s Campus Climate Initiative program to combat antisemitism on campus.

“At Carolina, we unequivocally reject and deplore antisemitism,” UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in the announcement Friday. “It has no place on our campus.”

UNC-CH will learn “best practices for cultivating a positive campus climate where all students are comfortable expressing their identity and values,” Guskiewicz said.

The university is also putting together a diverse advisory committee to implement the initiative in partnership with North Carolina Hillel. UNC-CH is joining 24 other universities across the nation, including Elon University, for the 2021-22 academic year.

Guskiewicz said as an academic community, UNC-CH has “an obligation to support rigorous, informed debate,” which includes the difficult and sensitive set of topics relating to the history and future of Israel and Palestine.

“I believe we must recognize the line between some expressions of anti-Zionism and actual antisemitism,” Guskiewicz said. “I have heard from students and alumni who’ve felt unwelcome and marginalized by discourse crossing that line, and their experience is troubling to me.”

Antisemitism on campus

Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina sent a letter earlier this month to UNC System President Peter Hans expressing his concern about “repeated antisemitic activity” at UNC-CH, including reports of antisemitic faculty teaching courses on campus.

The letter mentions a course called “The Conflict Over Israel and Palestine” scheduled to be taught by graduate student Kylie Broderick. Her social media posts prompted accusations of antisemitism and concern among Jewish UNC-CH students and community leaders, The News & Observer’s media partner ABC11 reported. Broderick’s course also spurred a complaint filed to the U.S. Department of Education by the D.C.-based Zionist Organization of America, ABC11 reports.

That complaint accuses UNC-CH of violating an agreement with the federal government following a previous federal anti-semitism case.

UNC-CH did not admit to violating any laws but agreed to revise its policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct, to include that policy in training and orientation sessions, to issue an anti-harassment statement and to hold a listening session next semester for students, faculty, staff and administrators to discuss concerns about harassment, the News & Observer previously reported.

The case was based on allegations of discrimination against students of Jewish descent during Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar’s performance at the “Conflict over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities” conference in 2019.

Earlier this year, someone broke into and vandalized UNC-CH’s Campus Y building with antisemitic symbols. The Campus Y is a division of Student Affairs that centers on civil and human rights.

UNC-CH campus leaders will hold listening sessions in October and next spring to discuss concerns of discrimination and harassment, including but not limited to antisemitism.

“I want to understand better the concerns I’ve heard from many in our community who think the University has not been forthcoming enough in recognizing antisemitism and communicating our efforts to combat antisemitism,” Guskiewicz said.

He also encouraged any student who feels discriminated against or harassed based on their ethnic background or religious identity to report it to UNC-CH’s Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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