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Shelley S. Hebert

Pain and Pride in Stanford’s Jewish News

I spent half of my professional career burnishing Stanford University’s reputation in the public arena, as well as nurturing and supporting its Jewish community as a volunteer leader. So it was with both pain and pride that I read the recently released report of the Advisory Task Force on the History Jewish Admissions and Experience and the statement of Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. The pain comes from confirmation that Stanford engaged in hidden antisemitic admissions practices during the 1950s that were known and supported by the highest levels of the institution. For decades, my alma mater denied that those practices had ever existed, despite the numerous personal stories shared among faculty, staff, alumni and others who regarded them as an open secret.

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When I applied as a transfer student to Stanford in 1974, following a junior year in Israel during the Yom Kippur War, my Jewish identity could not have been more evident. Yet even then, a family friend said, “You know they don’t take Jews there, don’t you?” At the time I scoffed, celebrated my acceptance and quickly became active in Jewish student life on the Bay Area campus affectionately known as “the Farm.”
And yet, the uncomfortable stories about whether Stanford actually had previously discriminated against Jewish applicants—while officially denying that it had a Jewish quota—never quite went away. This unease about the past at times overshadowed positive changes. Today Stanford has a flourishing Jewish community, a vibrant Hillel, a top-tier academic Jewish studies center, an innovative PhD concentration in education and Jewish studies, a remarkable Judaica collection in its library and more. Yet Stanford has not been immune from the challenging issues confronting Jewish students on many U.S. campuses today, including 21st century forms of antisemitism.  Fully understanding the urgent needs of the present has been hindered by a lack of clarity about the past.
The pride I feel now comes from seeing Stanford acknowledge this damaging chapter in its history for the first time and publicly committing to taking steps to improve the experience of Jewish students today. There is much work to be done, but also hope that it can proceed in a renewed spirit of openness and integrity. Stanford prides itself on being a leader and educating leaders. This moment is an example that its highest aspirations can be achieved and it can become a model for addressing other hard truths in our society and in higher education.
IF NOT NOW, WHEN? This year Stanford launched its first global Jewish Alumni Network. I am privileged to be serving as its co-president, along with a dedicated multi-generational board. For me, it is an opportunity to give back to Stanford’s Jewish community and in partnership with the Stanford Alumni Association, to begin a new chapter in the history of Jewish life at one of the world’s leading universities.
There may never be a good time for an institution to confront a painful past, but as the Jewish sage Hillel taught, “if not now, when?” The courage of today’s Stanford leaders has brought us to this historic moment, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
About the Author
Shelley has held numerous executive and board leadership roles in the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley Jewish community. She led development of the Palo Alto Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life as Executive Director, was board president of Hillel at Stanford, and has served on the advisory boards of the Jewish Chaplaincy at Stanford Medical Center, the Taube Center for Jewish Studies, the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture, and the Jewish Theological Seminary Library. Currently she is president of the Stanford Jewish Alumni Network and a member of Stanford's first Jewish Advisory Committee. Email: hebert.shelleys@gmail.com
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