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University groups work to promote healthy religious climate

Published: Monday, February 21, 2011

Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08

In 2009, swastikas were found in DePaul residence halls and other campus buildings. Michael Evers, president of DePaul Hillel, recalled the incident as "extremely hurtful and dangerous."Anti-Semitic vandalism is on the rise at many university campuses throughout the country. According to Student Free Press, in January 2011, eight Hebrew texts were thrown into toilets at Indiana University and people heckled the Hillel Center at the University of Florida, yelling "[Expletive] the Jews."


In response to these incidents, Jim Doyle, Vice President of Student Affairs, said there has not been another negative incident since the 2009 swastika episode at DePaul.


Doyle said the incident greatly concerned the university administration, particularly because DePaul has a long-standing relationship with the Jewish community in Chicago. From the start of the university's history, DePaul has been an accepting community to Jewish students.


"We work hard to preserve that, and pay attention to it," said Doyle.


When asked to comment on the origins of anti-Semitism, Doyle described them as "multifaceted and complex."


Evers believes there are three main catalysts to anti-Semitism. First, because of the Europe-centric history, some other religions impose themselves on Judaism.


Second, in relation to Israeli policies, Israel, Palestine and other areas of the Middle East are viewed as very contentious territories. However, Evers said that Jews are not synonymous with Israel.


Third, there are misconceptions that Jews are rich and powerful. Evers said that he has been a part of some service agencies where the majority of the service workers are Jewish. The percentage of lower income people in the Jewish population, according to Evers, is somewhat "large" and "surprising."


"A lot of people don't understand what it means to be Jewish and what Judaism really is," said Evers.


However, Evers pointed out that anti-Semitic attitude is hard to detect.


"Sometimes, anti-Semitism is embedded to people's attitude towards Jews," said Evers. "That is a bit harder to detect. No one comes out like 'I'm anti-Semitic.' It's all embedded in their actions and what they do to approach Jews that I think it's more subtle and much more difficult to detect."


After all, Evers foresees a positive future.


"Jews are becoming more well-known in the American society," said Evers. "Jews are fighting for other minorities' rights. Other minorities are fighting for Jews as well."


Not only are Jews undertaking biases and discriminations on university campuses and in American society - Muslims are another religious group in a severe situation.


"Right now," said Ross Richmond, President of Student Government Association, "Muslims are incredibly oppressed."


Trent Carl, Educational Coordinator of United Muslims Moving Ahead (UMMA) and Vice President of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), shared discriminatory incidents that have arisen on campus.


On a Sunday afternoon this month, an unidentified student yelled out "[expletive] Muslims" and "[derogatory Jewish slang]" at the Lincoln Park Student Center.


Carl also mentioned an instance when UMMA hosted a charity campaign at the student center. A student came to the booth, shook his head and said, "This is not right."


"We get comments all the time," said Carl.


Meanwhile, the Office of Diversity Education reinvigorated the Human Dignity Committee, not just in response to the swastika incidence, but to create a healthy and positive cultural campus climate.


Scott Tharp, the Associate Director of the Office of Diversity Education, said that the Human Dignity Committee has a membership of 26 people, ranging from administrators, staff and faculty to students. It aims to look at the cultural campus climate as a direct impact to the students.


"We want to revitalize that committee to look very seriously in these sorts of issues," said Tharp. "Have regular conversations with all these constituents about what's happening on campus, how do we help a healthy and positive cultural climate on campus."


The Office of Diversity Education also has been working with the Student Government Association to create a Human Dignity Student subcommittee.


The subcommittee has an entirely student-based membership. It meets twice a quarter to discuss the campus climate status, concerns that directly impact the students.


"What student government is really plugged into is making sure that the student's perspective is involved," said Richmond.


In addition, Tharp said that the campus will benefit from a proactive educational campaign. The goals of the campaign are to point out to students where to report an incidence of a cultural bias and discrimination, where to go for help when targeted in cases of cultural discrimination, and to reaffirm who we are as a Catholic Vincentian institution.


Students made posters with buzz words such as dignity, respect, humility and community.


"The feedback that I've gotten from the students is that it's been very widely and warmly received and welcomed," said Tharp. "Students appreciated the posters and appreciated knowing where to go.

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