November 6, 2023
Thank you – and welcome, everyone.
It’s a privilege to greet you on behalf of USC to the Western Region Summit on Antisemitism in Higher Education.
Tomorrow marks one month since the horrific October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas in Israel.
I ask that we take a moment to remember family and loved ones who have been killed – and hold close all who have suffered, are still suffering, and are being held hostage right now.
I’m sure you remember the moment when you first learned of these horrendous terrorist attacks.
For me, it was Saturday morning, after I had just celebrated a beautiful Shabbat dinner with Rabbi Dov Wagner, his wife Runya, and hundreds of students and their families.
The shock was profound, and from that moment, like so many of you, all I could think of was how shattering it was to so many people.
As president of USC, I immediately wanted to reach out to our community and campus leaders, to increase safety, ensure support for grieving and terrified students, faculty, and staff, and get everyone ready for what might be ahead.
My team felt the same.
We quickly activated and enhanced our special religious security forces, and began reaching out to our students, working with deans and faculty, increasing mental health services, talking to our boards and our legislative officials.
And from that moment, we have not, nor will we, let up.
We meet every day to prepare, share notes, improve, adjust, and do our best to help our community.
And we want – indeed must – do even more.
Being together with all of you to discuss antisemitism on our nation’s campuses could not come at a more critical time.
This summit is a beacon to help us face these profound issues with the urgency we feel, and at the very moment we need it most.
I have many thank yous: starting with Hillel International, and the Jewish Federation for organizing us.
Thank you to Adam Lehman, president and CEO of Hillel International; and to Rabbi Noah Farkas, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
I also want to thank the many Jewish leaders in LA and around the world who’ve offered their counsel and support.
And my special thanks to USC’s Dean of Religious Life, Varun Soni, and Dave Cohn, executive director of USC Hillel, for helping to create and shape this important summit.
In 2022, NYU hosted its Summit on Antisemitism.
And USC was honored when asked to host this year’s conference.
Even then, we were seeing a troubling and unacceptable rise in antisemitism.
And these incidences may have surged as much as 400 percent across the country (and on some college campuses) since the horrific terrorist attacks.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has reported that one-third of Jewish students experience antisemitism on their college campus each year.
Clearly, we’re facing a crisis.
I speak regularly with our students and community members about their grief, anger, and fear.
Please let me be clear: USC unequivocally denounces acts of antisemitism, discrimination, hate, and violence.
But our communities want more than words, they want action.
While much of the turmoil being reported elsewhere is not occurring at USC, we must work tirelessly to keep it that way.
As an American university, the freedom to speak, to disagree, and even to peaceably protest is at the core of our academic mission.
But freedom of expression should never be used as an excuse for sacrificing student safety.
Academic freedom, safety, and well-being are not mutually exclusive.
And it’s up to all of us to foster learning environments where free inquiry and expression are protected, while at the same time being very clear as a community about our expectations for civil and respectful discourse.
We have doubled down on our safety protocols – and work closely with our threat office and law enforcement.
We’re also working around the clock to listen to students and community members about their experiences.
You’re here because you, too, have been listening to your communities.
In early 2022, I met with students at USC Hillel in the aftermath of several hateful social media posts rocking our community.
They shared with me how they often experience expressions of anti-Zionism as antisemitism.
We had a wonderful conversation about how USC could better support our Jewish students, and I took their advice.
I convened our first Advisory Committee on Jewish Life, bringing together students, faculty, staff, Dave Cohn, Rabbi Dov, and many community members, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish Federation of LA, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Academic Engagement Network (AEN), and of course, Hillel International, among others – all led by Dean Soni.
I embraced all their recommendations, and work to complete them is underway. These are so powerful that I urge other universities to adopt them as well:
To start, we added examples of antisemitism specifically to our required anti-discrimination training for new faculty, students, and staff.
We also established a standing advisory committee to address emerging issues of antisemitism and support Jewish life.
We’re making accommodations for Jewish holidays, adding Kosher food, assessing our policies for political speech, and much more.
My many visits with our Jewish community have taught me something I think many of you already know: how well our campuses persevere in challenging times is largely determined in the weeks, months, or even years before traumatic events like we’re now experiencing.
Trust is determined by a legacy of support and listening, by making services available, and by taking action.
While certainly not perfect, USC has a long history of taking action, and I’d like to take a minute to point out a few that might be relevant to the conversations ahead.
First, USC has a strong, vibrant community of more than 4,000 Jewish students and importantly, a 50-year history of excellent academic programs in Jewish studies.
And we just signed an agreement with Hebrew Union College for another 25 years of shared education in Jewish history, culture, and traditions.
Just a few weeks ago, Rabbi Dov and Runya hosted “Shabbat 1000.”
It began back in 2007 as “Shabbat 300” – with the goal of hosting 300 students.
As you can guess, more than 1,200 students attended the most recent dinner – it’s so well-attended now, they have to hold it outside on Severance Street, just a few blocks from UPC!
Third, USC supports vitally important global research centers in Jewish history and contemporary culture, including:
The Shoah Foundation, under Director Rob Williams, which joined the USC community almost 20 years ago and catalogues approximately 55,000 Holocaust testimonies.
The Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life, founded in 1998, under Director and Distinguished Professor Steve Ross.
And the Center for Advanced Genocide Research, established in 2014, under its founding director, Dr. Wolf Gruner.
And fourth, we also have a recent history of acting to correct wrongs, like when we removed the names of Rufus von KleinSmid from an iconic USC building, and Dean Cromwell from our Track & Field facility, because of their history of antisemitism and racial prejudice.
I believe the world needs its great universities to reject antisemitism, foster understanding, and reject hate, intolerance, and all forms of prejudice.
And we need our educators to communicate values – and act on them – to ensure our students, faculty, and staff are safe, welcomed, and supported.
Antisemitism is a global crisis. We must work together to combat it.
It’s my honor to be here, and I thank you for entrusting USC to host this important event.
Finally, I would like to invite you to take a photo of the QR code you see behind me.
This will lead you to USC’s “Network of Informational and Support Resources in Times of Conflict.”
Here, you’ll find the most up-to-date resources, reassurances, and answers – with the aim to help you navigate life on our campuses during these times.