The Star of David necklace has become a second skin for 19-year-old Jacob Mandel, who wears his jewelry proudly but subtly underneath his striped, button-up shirt. The Jewish student began his education at SF State before it was recently named one of the top anti-Semitic schools in the country, otherwise he said he might have been misled about the University.
The David Horowitz Freedom Center, titled after its founder, reported the 10 U.S. campuses that experienced the worst anti-Semitic behavior Feb. 21. SF State was selected as the seventh worst college, below sixth ranked San Diego State University but above ninth ranked University of California, Los Angeles. The organization picked colleges based on the severity and amount of anti-Semitic behavior that occurred on campus, often with the use of university funds, according to the Horowitz Center website.
Mandel, an active member of SF State’s Hillel, the largest international Jewish student organization, spanning over 500 U.S. campuses, was baffled when he heard about the report.
“I was quite surprised when I read more into the article,” Mandel said. “I didn’t feel that (the center) really knows the feel for this campus and they had not really looked into Hillel or contacted us at all.”
In addition to the Hillel, SF State has an active Jewish fraternity and sorority on campus, along with a Jewish studies department. The chair of the department, Fred Astren, said he found the Freedom Center’s report misleading.
“We’ve heard this kind of message before – it doesn’t correspond to the reality that characterizes our campus and our campus community,” Astren said. “If you ask Jewish students or Jewish faculty, you are going to have a hard time finding people to corroborate that this is an anti-Semitic place.”
The Freedom Center cited the General Union of Palestinian Students’ protest during the celebration of Israel Independence last May as an instance of anti-Semitic behavior on campus at SF State.
“When some of the heat was generated on the political expression in (the quad), it now gets generated in the classroom and is framed in the academic study of the controversial subjects,” Astren said. “It’s less emotional. The stakes have not changed, the stakes are huge but it has taken a new framework at San Francisco State and it’s a good place to come and study these topics.”
Astren, who has taught at SF State for 19 years, said past incidents between Palestinian and Jewish students may have been considered anti-Semitic, but he believes the administration has been receptive and reactive in order to fix those issues.
“In terms of anti-Semitism on the campus, the administration has been very, very supportive and the department has its confidence in President Wong and the administration,” Astren said.
Title IX Coordinator and Vice President of Student Affairs Luoluo Hong heads the administration’s involvement in cases of discrimination. Since joining the University’s administration 10 months ago, Hong said she has not had any incidents of anti-Semitism reported to her.
“Diversity brings differences and differences can sometimes be uncomfortable but I think it’s a skill set that we’re helping develop here at San Francisco State,” Hong said.
The GUPS and Jewish students at SF State have had disagreements and animosity in the past, but administration and faculty members like Hong and Astren said they view these as expressions of opinion that could be utilized to create necessary dialogue.
Despite occasional clashing of opinions between Israeli and Palestinian students at SF State, Mandel said he believes there is hope for coexistence of the two groups.
“The first step to coexistence will have to happen here in the United States with the students and then eventually it will make its way back (to Israel and Palestine),” Mandel said.
Administration, faculty, and students believe that the most important thing is the present and how students feel and can be identified today, Astren said.
“In the end for me the student feedback is the most important thing for me to do my job,” Hong said. “It’s our community here today. I’m trying to understand what students’ experiences are today.”