Message from President Christian: Acknowledging antisemitism, and hope for healing

The following message was sent via email to all students and employees on Feb. 16, 2022.


SUNY New Paltz Students, Faculty and Staff:

No longer the ivory towers they were once considered, colleges and universities are proving all too porous to the prejudices emerging in our society.”

Those words from the Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to stopping the defamation of Jewish people, capture the emerging expression and dissemination of antisemitism on American college and university campuses. Regrettably, our campus is no exception, as a situation that began as a private disagreement among several New Paltz students has grown and created harm and fear among our Jewish students.

I reiterate my condemnation of antisemitism. As I wrote in a statement that I asked Rabbi Moshe Plotkin to read at a meeting of Jewish students earlier this week: “I condemn antisemitism in its many forms and for so many reasons – it diminishes people because of their identity or beliefs, it denies opportunities, and it interferes with a sense of comfort and safety where you as Jewish people should feel safe, among other impacts. Antisemitism is wrong.”

The impact of this conflict on Jewish students at New Paltz has been profound and has diminished our long history as a public university campus that values being a welcoming, “come as you are” environment for all students, where Jewish students have long felt like they belong. We can’t ignore that we live in a world where people are targeted and even murdered for attending a synagogue. Some of our students have expressed fear about attending gatherings here on campus and we cannot fulfill our educational purpose in such an environment.

The relationships between anti-Zionism, antisemitism, and views on Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are complex and the topic of decades-long, intense debate and discussion within and beyond Jewish communities. As reported by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, expressing support for Israel is connected to becoming a target of antisemitic sentiment.

Excluding any campus member from institutional events and activities on the basis of differing viewpoints on such matters is a traditionally defined form of antisemitism. Any such exclusion, whether based on religion, racial background, national origin, sexual orientation or gender, or other dimensions of personal identity, is incompatible with our campus values and the learning and inclusion goals of a public university like ours.

Other campus leaders join me in the expectation that our community members respect these principles and air differing viewpoints on important topics respectfully and with a goal of increasing our shared understanding of the world around us.

The student group at the center of recent events is not recognized by the Student Association and is not an official campus organization, which limits the College’s ability to respond to their actions. If the group were SA-recognized, we would have additional options for holding them to the higher standards we expect of all sanctioned student organizations.

Beyond responding to the circumstances involving this group of students, our community now has an opportunity to look honestly at the role bias plays in our lives and interactions with one another; to educate ourselves about antisemitism and other forms of discrimination and hatred; and to commit anew to our ongoing work of building a campus community that is welcoming and inclusive of diverse identities and views.

The members of the Jewish Student Union have shared with me a letter that is planned for publication in tomorrow’s issue of The Oracle student newspaper. Their letter reminds us that Judaism teaches a process called “teshuva,” which its authors define as “genuine grief, and a committed, consistent, pattern of action whereby you right the wrongs of your past.”

I wish to thank those students and the many other members of our community who are doing the work of helping us commit to such a pattern of healing action. I hope we can embark together on a path to regain a sense of belonging for all members of our campus, including Jewish students, faculty and staff. I am also grateful to faculty, current and retired, and to Rabbi Moshe Plotkin, who shared insights and knowledge with me and other campus leaders to help us understand the depths of these issues and their impacts.

Several Jewish student organizations are planning an upcoming forum to help our community members better understand antisemitism in its many forms and impacts. I encourage your participation. You also may be interested in perspective and resources about the Holocaust and antisemitism shared in my Feb. 1, 2022, monthly report to the Academic and Professional Faculty.


Donald P. Christian