[/pullquote]As it says in my byline, my day job is in higher education, working in marketing at Wheelock College, a small private liberal arts college with a public mission in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston. Earlier this month, Professors Eric Silverman and Gail Dines accused the Wheelock College administration of anti-Semitism. These accusations are retaliations against a campus community that has decided it will no longer tolerate their racism and bullying.
Speaking out against other Jews has never been the hallmark of the Jewish community. A history and communal narrative of oppression and fear have trained us to stand by our coreligionists and landsmen regardless of the circumstances. It’s only in recent memory that I’ve witnessed Jews call each other out for wrongdoings. When Donald Sterling was caught being a racist, we were quick to denounce him. When Bernie Madoff went to trial, we were quick to say “this is not Jewish.” We have reached a moment in American life where we are so clearly the benefactors of white privilege that members of our own community have abused the power that comes with it. Where as once we would have declared it a shonde and hoped not to air our dirty laundry in public, we now have a responsibility to call it out. If we are to be a “light unto the nations,” we cannot ignore the mess in our own backyard.
It’s been so disheartening to work in an atmosphere where two high-powered professors, Dr. Silverman and Dr. Dines, are using claims of anti-Semitism (Globe, February 2016) as cover for reports of racism, and the Jewish community has remained silent, extending tacit consent for their actions or worse, speaking in their defense. I include myself among the silent, and I’m embarrassed to have stayed silent for so long. Let me be crystal clear: these professors do not represent the Wheelock College community, nor do they represent the Jewish community at Wheelock.
Experiences of Anti-Semitism
Does anti-Semitism exist on campus? I’ve never experienced it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Similarly, no one has the right to deny the experiences of students, faculty, and staff of color as they share their experiences of racism. However, when anti-Semitism is used in a wolf-crying fashion as it has been in this instance, it serves to simply permit others to dismiss valid claims of anti-Semitism. This hurts everyone in the long run. For Silverman and Dines to claim they’ve been the victims of systemic attacks is not only laughable, it’s a distraction. They’ll tell you themselves just how high up they are on the chain.
I can say that I’ve witnessed explicit, implicit, and systemic racism and a student body brave enough to speak out against it. I’ve heard students share stories of the ongoing abuses they’ve had to endure just to make it through the semester both in and out of the classroom. Most recently, students called out Silverman’s use of slurs in the classroom through open letters and tweets. I understand this to be a symptom of larger ongoing problems and simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Attacks on Colleagues
I’ve also watched calculated attacks on my coworkers succeed with support from the mainstream media and little recourse. Last summer, an esteemed faculty member had her career destroyed as a result of a spurious claim of plagiarism. She is a woman of color who was on the receiving end of student complaints about Dines and Silverman (Globe, September 2015). There was no trial, just shame. Students asked, “Who’s next?” That is, who will be the next victim?
Earlier this month, Dines and Silverman filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, this time against the president and chief diversity officer, and shaming women of color (Globe, February 2016). Why is it that we find it so easy to believe and accept allegations of anti-Semitism but we require so much more effort from people of color to prove they’ve been victims of racism?
Students, always astute, observed that a particular group was being targeted and that they’d seen their predictions come true.
In many cases, we’re watching a fairly textbook case unfold. In reaction to being outed as racists—an effort so bravely led by students—the racists are claiming that they themselves are the victims of racism. This is not unique to Wheelock. For fears of being called a racist or anti-Semite, and for fears of retaliation, everyone but students are afraid to speak out. In fact, students, too, have admitted they are scared to speak out because this is such a small community where anonymity is all but impossible. This is how power is maintained and business goes on as usual.
I call on other Jews in the Wheelock College community to speak out, to say, “not in my name.” We can fight racism without ignoring the fight against anti-Semitism, the two are not mutually exclusive. We can no longer stand idly by as our colleagues’ and students’ careers fall casualty to unchecked power. If you’re not enraged, then you’re not paying attention. I know it’s easy to get hung up on on what you might have to lose as an individual, but consider what we’ve got to gain as a community by doing what’s right.