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Reacting to Anti Semitism on College Campuses

Since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7th, 2023, antisemitism (and islamophobia) on college campuses across the United States has risen tremendously, causing many college administrators to revisit the protections guaranteed in their school codes. One former college administrator, Liz Magill, received criticism from students, congress officials, state officials and other administrators for her lackluster attempt to fight such antisemitism, and eventually resigned.


March 3, 2024

By: Josh Kaminski 

Editor: Aydin Levy

Washington D.C. - The attack of October 7th, 2023 on Israel rekindled global attention on  a centuries-long conflict, raising political  tensions in the United States. College campuses, for instance, have seen an uptick in instances  of hate speech, predominantly in the form of antisemitism. These acts include threatening emails and messages directed to other students and staff, hateful phrases being spray painted on walls or written with chalk, and even the physical assault of Jewish students. According to the White House website, the Biden Administration has attempted to fight antisemitism on college campuses, but individual organizations need to contribute as well in order to properly address these situations. Some college administrations, such as Penn State’s, led by President Liz Magill, have received criticism for their handling of this rise in hate speech. Magill's statement regarding the conflict and her eventual resignation have sparked a nationwide conversation debating what types of speech qualify as violations of school code and how strict those school codes should be. 

In response to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the already-existing tensions on Penn State's campus erupted. From September 22-24, 2023, , the campus was occupied by the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, which intended to celebrate Palestinian literature and culture. Even before the festival happened, critics stated that the invited speakers had a history of making anti-semitic remarks. Even though the college was not responsible for organizing this festival, Liz Magill received backlash for failing to review the festival's plans with appropriate caution. Magill apologized for giving these speakers a platform, but the October 7 attacks only caused critics to more closely scrutinize  the administration's actions . 

The increase in hateful acts on college campuses received attention from the Biden-Harris administration and the FBI, yet Jewish college students’ safety was continuously imposed upon. Magill, specifically, was criticized for not taking strong enough action against anti-semitic speech and hate crimes, even after dealing with situations such as derogatory emails and graffiti on school property. Although she and the school administration denounced antisemitism, the effects of her statements were not visible enough on campus for many students to feel content and protected. Eventually, on December 5th, nearly two months after the initial attack, many college presidents, including Magill, decided to meet up and discuss how to handle these situations. Magill, along with some of presidents, responded to Representative Elise Stefanik with circuitous  answers to the question of whether calling for the genocide of Jewish people violated the school’s code of conduct. According to The New York Times, Magill stated that such a decision “is a context-dependent decision” and depends highly on the severity of the situation. 

Disappointed with her response, many students, officials and other administrators questioned her ability to protect students and faculty on the Penn State Campus. The governor of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, called her statement “shameful,” and, like many others, encouraged her resignation. Donors who lost trust in her leadership started to withdraw funds, which had the potential to imperil Penn State unless Magill stepped down. According to The New York Times, a student named Jacob Ross spoke out against her actions, saying, “I don’t think she has handled any part of this situation particularly well, but I don’t love the precedent of donors being able to apply pressure and get what they want. They are no longer part of the university, and their money makes decisions that affect me as a student.” Due to significant  pushback from students and community members, Magill eventually resigned from her position as Penn State’s President. 

Penn State University has a school code that lists many rules and regulations in order to ensure a safe environment for both students and staff. In the introduction, the code states that students should “act with integrity and honesty in accordance with the highest academic, professional, and ethical standards.” This section also says that students should “respect and honor the dignity of each person, embrace civil discourse, and foster a diverse and inclusive community.” The Prohibited Conduct section of the school code describes general misconduct as including damage of property, disruption, harassment, and threatening behavior. The actions committed on the Penn State campus violated each of the previously stated rules of conduct. 

Eleanor Sardinas is a Senior at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Virginia, who is planning to attend college in the 2024 fall semester. When asked how she would react to Magill’s statements if she were a government official or administrator, Sardinas said that she would be “appalled,” thinking that her  statement came at an especially inappropriate time given recent acts of anti-semitism on campus. Sardinas stated that if she was in Magill's shoes, she would educate herself about the situation and then be more cautious of what she says in the future. Sardinas later stated that she thought that Magill "knew that she went too far,” and had no other option but to resign. Finally, Sardinas voiced her  hope that other employees, administrators and officials "learn from her mistakes.”

The criticism that Magill faced was just one of many instances in 2023 where a college official was criticized for their ability to protect students. As anti-semitic tensions continue to increase, more pressure is put on these administrators to have strict school codes that account for the well being of every student and staff member on campus. Liz Magill's resignation was a warning of how poor leadership could not only negatively impact the students, but also give the school administration a bad representation as a whole. Every administrative section of the United States needs to work together to fight anti semitism, from non-profit organizations to state governments and college boards. In the end, responsible and effective officials play an important part in ensuring the safety and prosperity of American college students. 

TPF Media Relations Team Deputy Director  Aydin Levy states that “school is a place to learn and develop one's character, and that it should be a space that is safe and welcoming to all, both Jewish and Muslim students. Students are the future generation and their education relies on government and administrators abiding to their commitments to nurture young people. It’s important to hold those in power accountable for their failure to do so and prohibit hate acts and hate speech against all. It is important to remember that anti-zionism does not equal anti-semitism. Magill’s situation should be an opportunity to promote the values of education and our roles to each other. ” 



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