Brandeis Study: Israel Isn’t Students’ Top Concern

This just in: A Brandeis study on campus anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment finds… information completely unshocking to anyone who’s ever read New Voices – or talked to more than three Jewish students.

Our face after we read the Brandeis study. (Ok, not really.) | [Public Domain], via Pixabay

But still, we’re psyched.

The details: Brandeis University’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute polled undergraduates – Jewish and non-Jewish – from four major campuses where Jewish students are at least 10 percent of the student body: Brandeis University, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Michigan.

In case you don’t feel like reading 41 pages, here’s the TLDR version of the study:

-The majority of Jewish students polled hadn’t experienced anti-Semitism and didn’t see their campus as “hostile to Jews.” Over 95 percent of Jewish students felt safe on campus.

-The majority of Jewish students polled said they had heard “hostile remarks toward Israel.” However, the majority of students at three out of the four schools did not characterize their campus as a “hostile environment toward Israel.” At University of Michigan, 51 percent of Jewish students saw their campus as hostile toward Israel.

-Support for an academic boycott of Israeli scholars and universities is actually pretty scarce. Academic boycotts weren’t widely supported among Jewish and non-Jewish students at any of the four institutions – with the highest percentage at 12 percent at Brandeis University. (Though it’s interesting – and possibly telling – that surveyors chose not to measure support for economic divestment from Israel. The results may have been different.)

-Israel and Jewish issues weren’t top pressing concerns for the majority of Jewish students polled. For the majority of Jewish students at each institution, topics like race, mental health, and sexual assault ranked higher.

If you’re a campus Jew, chances are none of these conclusions are earth shattering. The results are consistent with what you’ll read in New Voices. Every year, students submit op-eds expressing frustration over the Jewish community’s BDS focus, when frankly it’s just not that big a deal on campus. Students often write about feeling safe on campus and wanting to participate in campus activist circles, despite popular belief. In the past year, New Voices pieces on campus mental health, race, and sexual harassment consistently got the most hits and reactions from readers ages 18 through 24. New Voices knew Jewish students a) weren’t terrified of campus, b) were over BDS, and c) were worried about things other than Israel long before it was cool.

But sass aside, these kinds of studies are extremely important. We’ve been kvetching for decades that understanding Jewish life on campus means actually talking to Jewish students. A vast host of articles crop up in Jewish media every year about campus life without empirical data from students themselves. And as a result, attention and funding go toward issues that aren’t proven priorities for Jewish students who want to be engaged. So, while the findings of this report are no surprise to us, they may be news to the wider Jewish community – and it’s time that news spread.

So, y’shar koach, and keep the studies coming.

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