U-Md. a C-Plus? Not so, say Jewish students

An antisemitic pamphlet dropped on the University of Maryland campus last fall.

Molly Zatman | WJW Intern

When it comes to antisemitism, University of Maryland gets a C-plus. That’s according to a New York-based watchdog group called StopAntisemitism. It published a report last month that graded 25 American colleges and universities based on their level of antisemitism.

StopAntisemitism graded each university in four categories: protection, allyship, identity and policy. U-Md. ranked well in policy due to several failed pro-BDS resolutions, but poorly in the other three categories.

“We are seeing pervasive antisemitism infecting higher education in America at an alarming rate,” according to StopAntisemitism Executive Director Liora Rez. “The results are grim and reflect a trend that desperately needs to change,”

U-Md.’s Jewish students, who make up a quarter of the undergraduate population, can’t see what all the fuss is about. They talk of a vibrant Jewish community, support from the administration and a positive environment.

“I’ve had a very positive experience so far,” said Brian Cooperman, a sophomore who transferred to the university for the 2022-23 year. “I’m proud of my heritage, and the university has created an environment where I can show that. I’d give it an A-plus.”Sophomore Charlie Summers said he feels welcomed as a Jew on campus.

“I think U-Md. is a very special case. I don’t think antisemitism is as prevalent here as it is on other campuses,” Summers said. “On Shabbat, I wear my kippah pretty much all day to walk to and from meals and davening at Hillel. I don’t feel in danger or uncomfortable. There’s lots of students that do that every day, not just Shabbat.”

Summers said he would give Maryland a “solid A” if he were to grade the school using StopAntisemitism’s criteria.

“Antisemitism exists everywhere and it exists here,” Summers explained. He recalled an incident last fall when someone scattered antisemitic pamphlets near the university. The incident received a prompt response from the university’s president, Darryl Pines. “But it isn’t an environment I would call extremely antisemitic.”

Student Body President Ayelette Halbfinger expressed a similar sentiment.

“A significant percentage of our student body is Jewish. This puts us in a unique position, especially as a public state school,” said Halbfinger, a senior. “But that’s not to say antisemitism isn’t an issue. We had several incidents last year. It’s important to monitor the issue and continue to combat it, because one antisemitic incident is already too many.”

However, even with antisemitic incidents, she says the school itself doesn’t feel antisemitic.

“The administration is supportive of the Jewish community and our right to combat antisemitism,”  Halbfinger explained.

She cited a coalition-building event hosted by Maryland Hillel in December 2021 called Spin Love, Not Hate. The event, held after the antisemitic incidents, had Pines as a speaker and representation from Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Georgina Dodge.

“Is antisemitism prominent? Does Maryland feel like a hostile environment? Absolutely not,” Halbfinger contended.

Said junior Rachel Morris, “I think because Maryland has such a large Jewish community, there’s a place for everyone. There’s resources for us: security outside of Hillel, at Simchat Torah, our events are recognized. I can’t give it a grade — I’ve never been exposed to the antisemitism here.”

“A lot of out-of-staters come to Maryland for the Jewish community. We have a strong support system. U-Md. has a great, inclusive Jewish community,” Morris said.

Elaine Berger, a junior double majoring in business management and Jewish studies, said she would give Maryland a B-plus.

“On U-Md.’s campus, it’s pretty Jewish-friendly and there’s very rare antisemitic incidents. In some cases, it’s nice that the administration doesn’t consider us a high risk. But it’s tricky. When there was antisemitism last year, the administration didn’t take it as seriously as it should have.”

Berger continued, “The student experience is still overall positive. Students feel safe expressing their Jewish identity. So many of us wear symbols, from Jewish stars to kippahs.”

University of Maryland received the highest marks of Washington-area universities graded by StopAntisemitism. University of Virginia earned a “C” and George Washington University received a “D.”

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