Student seeks antisemitism awareness training in freshman orientation

Martha Sanchez, News Editor

Ben Bernstein and his team are gathering signatures on a petition to include antisemitism awareness training in Tulane’s freshman orientation. (Rahima Olatinwo)

A Tulane University senior is seeking signatures on a petition to include antisemitism awareness training in freshman orientation. 

Ben Bernstein, who is leading the signature push, said he formed the idea after a Tulane student published an online opinion article in January defending antisemitic rants made by the rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West.  

Now, Bernstein is meeting with students and Tulane administrators to push for the training. 

“Be a part of ending antisemitism at Tulane!” Bernstein said in a statement, urging students to sign the petition, which had 1,313 signatures as of Wednesday night. 

Tulane’s Black Student Union, Multicultural Council and Gender and Sexuality Advisory Council have endorsed the plan. Bernstein also said multiple Greek life organizations support his movement. 

Raymell Green, president of the Black Student Union and Multicultural Council among other student organizations, said discrimination has no place at Tulane and called the work of Bernstein and his team “astounding.” 

“They have my full support,” Green said.

Raymell Green (Courtesy of Tulane Alumni Relations)

Last week, Bernstein said he met with Tulane’s freshman orientation coordinator who expressed interest in the training. Newcomb-Tulane College has been working to overhaul its freshman orientation since last fall. 

University spokesman Mike Strecker said the redesigned program will include “programming that addresses all forms of bias and hate including antisemitism.”

“We strive to foster a sense of belonging by building an inclusive community that supports an environment of equity, diversity, compassion, respect and opportunity,” Strecker said in a statement. “We appreciate the community’s interest in this topic.”

For Bernstein, timing is crucial. 

Hostility towards Jewish people on college campuses and beyond has risen in recent years. It reached record highs in 2021, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League, a group that tracks antisemitic bias cases nationwide. 

Last month, the University of Denver said it will investigate several campus incidents, including vandalism of a dorm room door with pork and the removal of Hebrew verses from three students’ doorways. In 2020, a Chabad house at the University of Delaware was destroyed in an arson attack. Since then, Jewish students at Tufts University and the University of Southern California have said they were driven out of campus leadership positions because of their support for Israel.  

In January, a Tulane a student’s online opinion article defended recent instances in which the rapper Ye tweeted he was “going death con 3” on Jewish people, praised Hitler on a right-wing radio show and wore a shirt that read “White Lives Matter.” 

Dean of Students Erica Woodley addressed that article in an email shortly after its publication, drawing quick criticism from free speech groups, who said the email had a “chilling effect” on future speech despite its support of free expression. 

Tulane has an undergraduate Jewish population of over 40%, according to Hillel International. It was the first southern university to admit Jewish students. 

Bernstein praised the school for welcoming those applicants when they were barred elsewhere in the 20th century. Now, he said cases of rising intolerance compelled him to make a difference at Tulane before he graduates this spring. 

“To the administrators at Tulane who have generously given their time to meet with me and consider this issue, thank you,” Bernstein said. “We urge you to be trailblazers once again and address this rampant form of discrimination by including antisemitism awareness training in freshman orientation.”

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