Colorado State University students and faculty gather for the annual Menorah Lighting and Chanukah Celebration on The Plaza in 2018.
Earlier this summer, Colorado State University President Joyce McConnell established a Presidential Task Force on Jewish Inclusion and the Prevention of Antisemitism. The task force, which the President’s Office has just announced to coincide with the start of the Fall semester, is co-chaired by Carolin Aronis, special advisor on prevention of anti-Semitism and affiliate faculty in the Department of Communication Studies, and John Henderson, assistant dean of students and director of Parent and Family Programs in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. Thirteen faculty, staff, student organization advisors, and student leaders as well as a representative from the Fort Collins community are members of the task force.
Per McConnell’s charge, the task force will provide a detailed action plan on how to address anti-Semitism and how to build a positive, Jewish-inclusive university community. The group will also refine and build upon the Action Plan for the Prevention of Antisemitism at CSU that was shared with the president last fall and, at her request, submitted as a proposal during the first phase of the university’s Race, Bias and Equity Initiative.
The task force has been meeting since June to explore and uncover historical and systemic facets of anti-Semitism experienced by Jewish students, faculty, staff and community members at CSU. Among its first efforts was documenting some of the bias incidents, ignorance and exclusion experienced by Jews in the university community and anecdotally reported.
“CSU does not feel like a place that values and appreciates the rich history and diversity of the Jewish community,” said Henderson. “The many attestations shared with our group of the harmful microaggressions and violent acts experienced by students, staff and faculty who identify as Jewish was alarming. There is an overall sense that the general campus population is not aware of the depth of the problem of antisemitism and actually dismisses it.”
On the rise globally
Formation of the task force comes at a time when anti-Semitism is surging nationally and globally and attacks on the country’s Jewish population, including mass shootings in synagogues, have reached all-time highs. According to a 2019 audit conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, the state of Colorado had one of the largest increases in anti-Semitic incidents in the country, with Fort Collins ranking third in the state in hate crimes. Last year, a plan to blow up a synagogue in Pueblo was thwarted by federal agents.
Aronis and Henderson say their hope is that CSU will be a place where members of the Jewish community feel both safe and proud to be on campus, that the university will embrace and support them, and where a Jewish Studies program, Jewish center, and Jewish culture will be part of the daily life on campus, as they are at other universities across the United States.
“The Jewish community on campus has lived in fear, has suffered from humiliation, and too often prefers to hide their Jewish identity,” Aronis said.
A Communication Studies scholar who has previously taught at CSU as a visiting faculty member and who was the leading author of the original Action Plan, Aronis explores communicative practices of power dynamics, identity politics, and Jewish culture within the media, everyday life, and in academia. Her current research focuses on practices of anti-Semitism and racism on U.S. college and university campuses and their institutional responses.
Since 2017, Aronis has taught extensively at CSU and CU Boulder about notions of intersectionality, privilege, and the oppression of marginalized groups in U.S. society. Aronis has experience in bringing about policy change for human rights and inclusivity in academic settings. Since Spring 2019, she has worked together with CSU One Health Institute Program Leader Magdalena Serpa, CSU Chabad Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelik, and CSU Hillel Director Mariah Kornberg – DeGear in addressing the situation of the Jewish community at CSU.
Looking ahead, Aronis says the task force plans to submit its preliminary recommendations to President McConnell in December 2020 and an in-depth report in June 2021. The latter will provide a roadmap to institutional and systemic change specific to preventing anti-Semitism and promoting and supporting a Jewish-inclusive campus.
“Our work, along with all of the other efforts on campus to support minoritized populations across diverse identities, is absolutely necessary for our land-grant institution,” she said.
President McConnell agrees.
“I am deeply grateful to the task force for convening so quickly and with such energy and purpose,” she said. “Their work is absolutely aligned with our commitment to equity and inclusion. Sadly, we all know of incidents that speak to the persistent and painful power of anti-Semitism in our community. For me, this was driven home by a student who told me that her mother didn’t want her wearing her Star of David necklace on campus because she was afraid for her daughter. No one should have to think twice about denying any part of their heritage or identity as a member of the CSU community.”
McConnell emphasized the name of the group as deliberate.
“We’ve created a task force because we feel a shared sense of urgency to address these issues through action that produces demonstrable, lasting change,” she said. “I know that this group of incredibly committed, thoughtful individuals will make recommendations that can truly help CSU create a more Jewish-inclusive environment for all.”