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Changing the culture: a welcome response to antisemitism, harassment and hate crime on campus

Steve Ballinger

David Brown

Executive Director
Union of Jewish Students

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) has regrettably spent too much time in 2016 addressing the concerning rise in campus antisemitism. Not all of this has produced the outcomes needed for Jewish students. So it is with relief that we can welcome UUK's proactive and practical Changing the culture report released last month.

Even before the events of last week at UCL, several high profile campus incidents at King's College London, the Oxford University Labour Club and the University of York had pushed antisemitism related to university students up the news agenda. These episodes do not reflect the daily campus experience for Jewish students, yet they come at a time of increased concern for their welfare: the Community Security Trust's figures for student-related incidents from January to June 2016 are two-and-a-half times those recorded for the same period last year.

One underlying reason for this increase may well be lack of understanding of both Jewish identity and contemporary antisemitism. Therefore we welcome the fact that UUK's report identifies the need for 'improved understanding of the broader ethnic and national dimension to Jewish identity'. 

Part of this will mean a better and wider understanding of the legal position, so it is also helpful that the report makes clear that 'under current legislation, Jews are identified as members of a race as well as a religion and police can record crimes against them as either racially or religiously motivated.' (italics added)

Practical steps to take forward the taskforce recommendations

The taskforce complements this with some practical recommendations on proactive training and signposted, visible and clear reporting mechanisms. UJS will already be enacting one of these recommendations by offering training to a number of sector colleagues at the UUK conference taking place this Thursday, 3 November, on tackling violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students. UJS (and the Community Security Trust) are also available to support universities and students' unions with local sessions for their staff. And we'd encourage university leaders to involve their local Jewish Society.

Building on the UUK taskforce's work and recommendations, we'd also encourage universities to consider:

  1. How they respond to alleged harassment and hate crime even if a formal report has not been made, for example when alleged incidents are instead brought to their attention by the press. 

  2. How they work with their students' union when only one or the other of them has received a formal complaint. 

  3. Their ongoing support for complainants, such as in this ultimately positive example from the University of York where the university acted as mediator between a complainant and the students' union.  

UJS is also keen to play its part in supporting the various and intersecting identities that may face prejudice reflected in the recent report. J-Socs have worked with Jewish Women's Aid to offer sessions on healthy relationships and tackling violence against women. We would welcome opportunities to cooperate with other faith, ethnic and cultural groups on campus addressing sexism, racism, homophobia and Islamophobia.

UUK's report is aptly titled 'Changing the culture', and UJS looks forward to working with all cultural groups to create safer and more cohesive campus communities.

The UUK conference on tacking violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students takes place this Thursday, 3 November, at Woburn House in London.

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