I got involved with political campaigning at university. Like many LGBT people, I wanted to make the world a better place, a place where people didn’t have to experience what I did in school. Like many others my age, I went to school under Section 28 and although the last Labour government scrapped this policy, we continue to be left with a lack of education around LGBT relationships.
When I went to school, I was bullied. I know my experience wasn’t unique, as many young LGBT people face the same things I once did. There must be thousands of stories like mine, stories in which the bullying was rationalised with a chorus of excuses. Excuses like — it’s because he’s loud, he doesn’t talk like us or because he’s camp (I mean, I am camp and proud – but that isn’t an excuse for bullying).
It was never, he’s being bullied because he’s gay AND there’s something we need to do to stop it. Everyone was quick to hide the homophobia that motivated the bullying. People wouldn’t recognise my oppression even though it couldn’t have been more blatant.
Now, fast forward more years than I care to admit, and I got elected as the LGBT+ Officer (Open Place) for the National Union of Students. When I first became an Officer, I started to see Jewish people talking about their oppression and how it was being ignored with a deafening silence. This brought me back to what I experienced all those years ago, when I would try to define my oppression and it was ignored and excused.
Jewish students are being told what is and isn’t anti-Semitic, being told how they should feel, how they should react but most of all they are being ignored with the same deafening silence I heard when I was at school. I knew I had to do something about this, and I have.
Last week, I launched a piece of research into the experiences of Jewish students on their campus and the movement as a whole.
Jewish students are facing a range of problems that aren’t limited to anti-Semitism: timetabling problems, access to kosher food, access to kosher accommodation, difficulties in engaging in political spaces, to name a few.
We have seen the experiences of Jewish students aired very publicly in recent months, but there has been no formal response from the student movement to what has, in general, been negative experiences.
Because of my work with UJS, I am also aware of the amazing experiences that Jewish students are having on campus, as well as the incredible work that they are contributing at SU and NUS level, and I think we can capture the good and the areas for immediate change.
This research is an opportunity for Jewish students to tell NUS about their experiences of being a Jewish student on a UK campus in 2016. We will not shy away from what may well be a difficult read. I want to reassure you that we will take the experiences of Jewish students seriously and create recommendations that will ensure that Jewish students have a safe and positive experience on campus.
I ran to be Vice President Society and Citizenship with a commitment to conduct a piece of research into Jewish students’ experiences because the only way that students’ unions and NUS can respond to the valid concerns that Jewish students have made is by listening to them.
If you are a self-defining Jewish student please fill out Rob’s survey here: