Speak Up About Antisemitism in High School

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Much of the focus on the alarming rise and impact of antisemitism since Oct. 7 centers on college campuses and the challenges faced by Jewish students at the university level. But what about Jewish students in high school?

In a new study by BBYO, in partnership with First International Resources and Impact Research, of nearly 2,000 BBYO private and public high school students in the United States and Canada — the first such survey since the war in Gaza — a whopping 71% of Jewish teens report that they have faced antisemitic harassment or discrimination. And 61% have experienced the bias in person, 46% have experienced it online and 36% have experienced antisemitism both online and in person.

Nearly half of the high schoolers reported being harassed for wearing visibly Jewish clothing or symbols, such as a kippah or a Star of David. Close to 60% have lost friends or been cut off by people due to disagreements over fighting in the Middle East. And more than 40% have been challenged for wearing or owning pro-Israel items.

Based upon the widely reported surge in antisemitic activity since Oct. 7, the high school statistics don’t come as much of a surprise. But they are disturbing. What is surprising, however, is the survey’s report that nearly half of the high schoolers who have experienced in-person incidents of antisemitic harassment or discrimination have not reported them, because they don’t feel comfortable doing so.

Although the survey doesn’t explain why students aren’t comfortable reporting harassment and discrimination, the fact that 65% of respondents indicated that their concerns about antisemitism were questioned, minimized or dismissed by others seems to explain some of the reluctance to report.

If so, that’s a problem that should be able to be corrected quickly by public school boards and private school administrators. And we strongly encourage those high school governing bodies to do so. Significant government, professional and volunteer resources are available to help schools structure appropriate means for the confidential reporting of harassment and discrimination and the provision of counseling and other support services for student victims.

Nearly three-quarters of the BBYO high school respondents indicated that they have seen more Jewish-related discrimination in school or during extracurricular activities since Oct. 7, and a disturbing 54% of respondents self-reported that their mental health has gotten worse during that same period.

Antisemitism in high school presents a unique series of problems. Teenagers are particularly impressionable. They are deeply affected by social dynamics with their peers, consumed with social media, pressured to achieve to attend college and sensitive to the authority of their teachers and administrators.

The pressure to fit in socially sometimes forces students to accept or ignore inappropriate behavior by others for fear that calling it out will show weakness or vulnerability, cause retaliation or be ignored.

Our schools need to empower our children. “If you see something, say something” should apply to antisemitic hate, harassment and discrimination, and high school teachers and administrators need to be trained to deal with these issues and be held accountable.
Our children are our future. We need to protect them.

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