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College antisemitism ranking hits RCC, Purchase with ‘F’ grades; schools dispute findings

Two Lower Hudson Valley colleges — both part of the State University of New York system — were assigned an “F” for the presence of antisemitism in a newly created Anti-Defamation League report card.

One school, SUNY Rockland Community College, hosts an esteemed Holocaust Museum. The other, Purchase College, has a campus facility for use by Hillel students, with a kosher kitchen available to Jewish students, as well as Islamic students observing Halal dietary restrictions.

After the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel and amid Israel’s war in Gaza, instances of antisemitism and Islamophobia have risen around the U.S. and worldwide. .

Both RCC and Purchase College have questions about how they ended up ranked at the bottom of ADL’s “beta,” or early, ranking that looked at 85 campuses in the U.S. out of nearly 4,000 degree-granting post-secondary institutions. Other Westchester and Rockland colleges were not included.

Antisemitism reports on campus:

The , where dueling demonstrations of pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests took place this week, a “D.”

The new ranking considers subjective impressions and data analysis to gauge the presence of antisemitism on a particular campus. “It takes the temperature at a moment in time and provides a roadmap for improving campus climate,” the ADL report summary states. “Reasonable people may disagree with these decisions.”

ADL also recently issued its of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault in the U.S. Such incidents rose 140% in 2023, according to ADL, with a significant spike after the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas and Israel’s invasion of Gaza. It’s the highest rate since ADL started its annual audit in 1979.

Colleges react

Purchase College President Milagros Peña said the ADL report provided “an inaccurate picture. Purchase College takes antisemitism as a serious threat and there is zero tolerance for it.”

Andrea Winograd, executive director of the Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education, called RCC’s ranking by ADL undeserved. “RCC’s Board of Trustees and and leadership stand at the ready to combat antisemitism and hate in all forms.

“Any incidents of hate on campus are immediately condemned and appropriate action is quickly taken,” Winograd said.

Exhibits inside the Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education on the campus of Rockland Community College in Suffern. Thursday, October 19, 2023.

The center, located on the RCC campus, has a “wonderful and collegial relationship” with the college, Winograd said.

ADL said it’s developing the report card so students, parents, guidance counselors, admissions consultants, college staff and faculty, concerned alumni, and other interested members can assess campuses of interest.

ADL sees the rankings as a way to “broadly identify best practices in terms of college responses to campus antisemitism.”

Why the ‘F’ rankings

The two campuses were among 13 given an “F” rating in the ADL report; 24 got a “D” for “deficient approach”; 29 earned a “C” grade for “corrections needed; 18 a “B” for “better than most”; and two an “A” for “ahead of the pack.”

ADL said the first round of rankings focused on colleges with large Jewish populations and top colleges, as determined by Hillel International and U.S. News & World Report rankings. Neither of those organizations, though, participated in the ADL report.

Purchase, where 24% of undergraduates were classified as Jewish by the ADL, had “antisemitic and anti-Zionist incidents,” according to the , including damage to a Sukkah for Jewish students to take meals in during Sukkot; an Israeli flag vandalized; and a report of a “We Stand With Israel” poster torn down, for which a student was suspended.

SUNY Rockland Community College on Oct. 24, 2023.

At RCC, 22% of students are Jewish, according to ADL. cited graffiti, including a swastika, found in a bathroom at the Holocaust Center; reports of antisemitic statements sent to Jewish students; and a student being expelled after yelling and disrupting a Hillel event.

Next steps

The ADL said some raw assessment data was shared with colleges and universities so they could corroborate the data or correct it.

Both colleges plan to follow up with ADL. Both report planned trainings for all faculty, staff and other employees on campus and say they continue to follow federal guidelines for diversity, equity and inclusion trainings.

Purchase College officials said they have been working with the Westchester Human Rights Commission and the New York State Human Rights Division.

The campus of Purchase College

RCC President  said the college has undertaken initiatives focused on education and “multiple recognitions for our diversity efforts.”

Winograd of the Holocaust Museum touted the campus’ vibrant community. “We extend an invitation to the ADL for a visit to tour the HMCTE as well as a walk around campus with us to experience the wonderful and thriving Jewish student life at RCC.”

Hillel of Westchester Executive Director Rachel Klein said in a statement that she was not directly addressing the ADL report card, but touted the rich Jewish life offered to students at Purchase.

However, she added, attention is needed to address antisemitism on college campuses.

“In the aftermath of October 7, 2023, educational institutions worldwide have awoken to the urgent need to better support and advocate for Jewish students,” Klein said in a statement. “The rise in antisemitism is a global phenomenon, and the conflation of Judaism and Israel has been weaponized against students and administrators alike.”