Jewish students are in an increasingly vulnerable position on American college campuses today. In the wake of the October 7 Hamas terror attacks, they are contending with concerns about their safety and well-being, hostile protests that devolve into hate speech or violence, and concerning remarks in the classroom. These catalysts are often compounded by the absence of clear channels of support or understanding from university administrators, faculty, and even their own peers.
As parents, you likely have deep concerns about how Jewish students are navigating the landscape of college life. There is a great deal you can do to help. American Jewish Committee (AJC), the global advocacy organization for the Jewish people, has created this concise action plan containing steps you can take to help support Jewish students and engage productively with the school. AJC experts routinely work in partnership with schools to help build an atmosphere more resilient against rising Jewish hate, and we may be working with your school currently or looking to engage with them in the near future.
What parents can do:
- Ensure you and your child know and understand their rights. Students have a legal right to live and learn in a safe environment free from harassment, discrimination, and bias. In turn, universities and colleges have an obligation to clarify their reporting structures so that students can report antisemitic incidents on campus and be assured that those incidents are investigated and resolved. Students and parents should take time to understand what forms of speech and action are legally permitted, and the standards for pursuing a lawsuit or official complaint. Lawsuits can be costly and are extremely time-consuming. They are an important but often final recourse, and it is important to understand them as one tool among many in a kit that includes other avenues of support and advocacy. Please consult our guide, Know Your Rights, for more information about students’ rights and pathways for support on college campuses.
- Ask administrators to reassert and enforce university codes of conduct. Destroying property and engaging in behavior that is threatening, disorderly, or antagonizing constitutes a breach of university codes of conducts and should be reported immediately. Administrators need to take this moment to communicate clearly to students the rules governing protests on campus, and underscore the consequences of threatening and intimidating Jewish students online or through other forums. They should also be prepared to enforce rules without equivocation and make clear what course of action is being taken. Consider reaching out to your contacts on campus, including Parent Services offices or the school’s dean of student life, to recommend that they communicate to the entire student body now, including student club leaders, what constitutes a permissible form of protest. You can also direct them to our AJC Action Plan for University Administrators, which offers further guidance.
- Inquire about campus physical security. Appeal directly to your contacts at the school and especially to those in charge of residence life (residence hall, sorority or fraternity) and public safety to ensure that adequate security measures are in place to protect Jewish students who live and study on campus. It is the university’s responsibility to anticipate security needs so that Jewish students are safe and feel safe on campus, and Jewish programming and facilities are protected.
- Ensure your child seeks out the mental health support they need. Campuses have resources to support students’ mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing that are often widely advertised. But you can also help by checking in regularly with your child, really listening, and paying attention to warning signs such as undue isolation, sudden changes in behavior patterns and habits, or withdrawal from friends or family. We can help connect you to partner Jewish organizations that can assist in finding the support services your child may need.
- Encourage your child to find sources of community on and off campus that feel safe and supportive for them to express their Jewish identity. Jewish organizations on campus such as Hillel and Chabad can be sites of meaningful connection for Jewish students who feel isolated or dejected. AJC can help make the connection between students and organizations like campus Hillels or Chabads, or to other Jewish students through the AJC Campus Global Board network. AJC is also helping organize and sponsor Shabbat dinners both on and off campus. Have your child reach out to us, and we can help connect them.
- Make your voice heard. Universities are increasingly responsive to parents and have developed mechanisms to engage with and hear from them. If you are the parent of a college student, don’t hesitate to participate in Parent Weekend events, contact the Parent Services office, and engage on social media groups and message boards for parents at your child’s university. Ensure that university leaders understand that protecting the safety of Jewish students and ensuring they can live and study in an environment free from antisemitism is a priority for you. Request information about how these issues are being addressed by administrators. You can specifically call on university leaders to take tangible steps to improve the environment for Jewish students, including those in AJC’s Action Plan for Confronting Campus Antisemitism:
- Encourage administrators in your school to adopt and use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism.
- Advocate for programs that recenter the conversation about the Middle East back to a place of fact-based exchange.
- Call on administrators to convene a task force to combat antisemitism with an actionable list of initiatives and a clear timeline for implementation.
- Support programs that create resilient Jewish life on campus. If you are a university donor, consider earmarking your gift for programs or services that specifically address Jewish student life, generate productive dialogue about the Middle East, or other programs that further your values. Make clear to the university development office that you are choosing these programs because of your concerns about antisemitism and the safety of Jewish students.