Isaac de Castro
Isaac de Castro

Is it time Jewish students abandon American universities?

Cornell University's iconic clocktower at 'golden hour'.

Antisemitism on college campuses is growing. That is no secret. Jewish on Campus’ Instagram page exposes the growing trend of these seemingly endless incidents, and there is no shortage of headlines speaking of Jewish students who are being bullied out of their student governments. Those paying attention, parents and students alike, are rightfully worried and I am constantly approached for advice on choosing colleges, taking all of this into consideration. 

Teenagers are seeing the wholesome images of their dream colleges shattered. Should they apply elsewhere? Parents are watching this precarious situation from afar. Should they even send their kids to college in the United States? What are the other options? These are all questions I ask myself retroactively too.

Many of my colleagues who are also involved in Jewish advocacy have consistently provided a brave and firm response. “Attend the college of your choice and stand up to antisemitism when you get there, lest Jews relinquish our seat at the table and things get worse. We must never let antisemites decide where we should go or make us uncomfortable. We belong wherever we want to be,” they say. It is a sentiment that I wholeheartedly agree with, but I am unsure if it is an answer I can fully support.

I think about what it would have been like had I gone to school in Israel, or had I chosen to go to a Jewish-majority school like Brandeis or Yeshiva. Cornell University’s Jewish community is a strong and large one, but that did not spare me from antisemitic microaggressions, the constant feeling of otherization in classrooms because of my views on Israel, and the ability to fully explore my interests, specifically Zionism, without fear of my professors lowering my grades.

Ultimately, I do not regret going to Cornell. My experience in this institution has shaped me, and led me to do work that has helped and created awareness for so many Jewish students, which I probably would not be doing otherwise. I’ve embraced this fight loud and proud, and I plan to continue to do so. Still, I can’t help but think that had I known what I do now during the arduous college application process in high school, my choice might have been different.

Prospective students should be aware of the state of antisemitism and Jewish communal life at the institutions where they are applying. I echo my peers when I say those who choose to go to universities where Jew-hatred is high out of principle with pride and courage, should be not only applauded but encouraged. Nonetheless, those who choose to consider the consequences of openly embracing their Jewish identity and weigh that into their decisions should be wholly supported as well.

Jewish students, like everyone else, want to go to class, get decent grades, learn, and have fun. We want to have a normal and positive college experience. If this is being tainted by antisemitism, why should it not be taken into account? It is unfair to ask that every Jewish student become a heroic advocate for our community or that they lay their head down for four years and avoid bringing up aspects of their Jewishness in order to get by, yet these are the choices that are commonly being presented with hardly any middle ground.

So, should you give up going to your dream school? Should you go to school in Israel? Should your Jewish identity be the main factor in your decision process? I cannot answer those questions for you, but I do think it is important that you ask them yourself. Be honest about what you are willing to sacrifice, and make an educated decision, knowing that the landscape of American college campuses has drastically changed in the past decade, and may very not go back to what they were any time soon.

I have not given up hope for American universities, and that is why I work to make them better for Jewish students every day. But can we blame those who have? It may not be the time in which we must all abandon secular American colleges, but the fact that we are asking goes to show how much work there is to be done.

About the Author
Isaac de Castro is a senior at Cornell University.
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