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Some Jewish parents rethink elite schools amid antisemitism concerns on campus

By Gabe Cohen | December 14, 2023, at 12:35 PM EST

Amid growing concerns about antisemitism on elite college campuses, some Jewish families are removing top-tier institutions from their lists and prioritizing safety.

Universities have scrambled to address issues related to freedom of speech, hate speech and political debate as the Israel and Hamas war enters its third month, but their perceived inaction in combatting antisemitism on campuses has many Jewish students, faculty and staff feeling in danger.

Merav and her daughter, Anna, a high school senior in Atlanta, have repeatedly changed her college list since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.

The Jewish family, who asked not to use their last name for safety reasons, had their sights set on some of the top schools in the country. But they have since removed the University of Pennsylvania, citing what they consider volatile and antisemitic incidents and activities on campus.

“I didn’t think I’d have to readjust a college list based on concern for the safety of Jewish students,” Merav told CNN. “Our priorities have shifted significantly. The shiny allure of an Ivy has been dulled by their administrative responses to the current conflict.”

“You’re going to be challenged by the diversity of opinion at college,” Anna said. “But as much as I admire resilience, I’d like not to have to be continuously resilient in terms of finding safety. I would like to be safe on the campus.”

More than a dozen Jewish families told CNN their priorities have shifted since October 7 as they apply to colleges, given the ongoing tension and turmoil on campuses nationwide.

Christopher Rim, founder and CEO of Command Education, a consultancy that helps students apply to top-tier colleges, said they’re “getting new updates and changes and requests” every day. “We’ve had students completely revamp their entire application,” he said.

Rim says many of his Jewish clients are removing schools from their list, like Cornell and Columbia, which are both under investigation by the Department of Education after incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia, including alleged threats to Jewish students.

Rim says some students are also steering away from UPenn, Harvard and MIT, especially after last week’s disastrous Capitol Hill testimony from their respective presidents.

Liz Magill of UPenn, Claudine Gay of Harvard University and Sally Kornbluth of MIT, were called to testify in a hearing before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Magill and her counterparts gave widely criticized testimony in which they failed to condemn calls for the genocide of Jews as explicitly against campus harassment and bullying codes.

Gay apologized in an interview with the school’s student newspaper after facing widespread condemnation for her congressional testimony. “I am sorry,” Gay said to The Harvard Crimson last Thursday. “Words matter.”

Rim says, in many cases, families are replacing those schools with colleges they consider safer for Jewish students, such as Emory, Vanderbilt and Washington University in St. Louis, Rim says.

“I’ve seen students who I thought would be a shoo-in, for example, at Columbia, completely make a decision to no longer apply there,” Rim said.

Jennifer Schultz, a Jewish mother in Harrison, New York, watched her eldest son graduate from Cornell in 2021, just as her father did. But she has soured on the school since a series of threats to kill or injure Jewish people in October ended with a Cornell junior facing federal charges.

“After what happened on campus, and the death threats to Jewish students, it doesn’t feel safe,” Schultz said.

Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack in a statement said the school “will not tolerate antisemitism.”

“During my time as president, I have repeatedly denounced bigotry and hatred, both on and off our campus,” Pollack said. “The virulence and destructiveness of antisemitism is real and deeply impacting our Jewish students, faculty and staff, as well as the entire Cornell community. This incident highlights the need to combat the forces that are dividing us and driving us toward hate. This cannot be what defines us at Cornell.”


Originally published on CNN on December 14, 2023

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