UCSC students should expect more from their administration in combating antisemitism and hate

UC Santa Cruz student Bodie Shargel
(Via Bodie Shargel)

UC Santa Cruz is seeing a problematic rise in antisemitic acts, writes second-year music major Bodie Shargel. Shargel feels that amid a concurrent rise in antisemitism nationally, UCSC needs to do more to combat hate on campus. He feels the measures the university has in place to combat antisemitism are not working and says the administration’s response to a group of students holding a birthday party for Hitler in April was insufficient. Shargel believes Jewish students need more support and is calling for more action from the administration and for solidarity among students to “get Nazis off campus.”

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I learned about recent and horrid antisemitism at UC Santa Cruz, my campus, from a May 5 Lookout article.

In the article, I read wonderful, thoughtful responses from Merrill College Provost Elizabeth Abrams about antisemitism and I also learned that on April 20 — when many of us were engaging in the lighthearted annual Porter Meadow festivities — a group of my fellow students decided to hold a birthday party for Adolf Hitler.

Ten days after the initial party — a day after UCSC allegedly learned about the incident — the vice chancellor for student affairs and success, Akirah Bradley-Armstrong, sent an email with the subject “rejecting hate on our campus.” I didn’t read it at the time. (We get a lot of emails from UCSC.)

I appreciate (in retrospect) the email. It described the “party,” including that the students ate cake adorned with “hateful and horrific symbols.” The email is about what I’d expect from the administration. I also understand Bradley-Armstrong and others have met with students, which I applaud. These kinds of meetings are important, and I’m glad the administrators involved have made them happen.

Right after the Lookout article came out — now two weeks after the original event — UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive put out her own May 5 statement. In contrast to the clear, honest and deeply human message from Provost Abrams and other members of UCSC’s Jewish community, the chancellor’s statement was bland, naïve, and to me, infuriating.

It’s difficult to understand the chancellor’s statement because there’s hardly anything there. It’s vapid. Rote.

The chancellor begins by expressing her disgust at the students’ actions and adding: “This incident is being addressed through our conduct processes according to our policies and procedures, but I know that no response can undo the harm felt by so many in our community.”

It’s good UCSC is handling it, but she offers little indication how. What is being done? We still don’t even know basic details of what happened — like how many students were involved or who reported or saw it. I am not asking to violate anyone’s privacy. I just want some answers.

I couldn’t care less whether or not I’m uplifted — I want Nazis off my campus.

How can we be expected to have confidence in university “procedures” when nobody outside the administration knows what they are? The chancellor’s apparent confidence in the existing processes to respond to incidents like this is undermined by our terrible reality.

Antisemitism is both a common and worsening occurrence on campus. That is the general understanding and feeling among students. It’s also rising in the nation: The Anti-Defamation League reported an increase of 36% in 2022, the highest level since 1979.

Last year, someone spray painted swastikas on Merrill College, and there has been a series of other recent incidents. But all this is anecdotal. Statistically, I don’t know if antisemitism or hate crime is rising because the campus has not released statistics on this, despite requests.

I do know the protocols in place are not working.

Despite what the chancellor’s statement says, a proper response from my university to antisemitic acts would undo some harm. My anger is not just at the fact that Nazis exist on my campus. I’m more upset that those tasked with responding to these acts, like Chancellor Larive, aren’t doing enough about it.

In the remainder of the statement, the chancellor says that “we must … respond swiftly,” to antisemitic acts. She stresses how we must not allow antisemitic attacks to undermine our values and calls on the “broader community” to “uplift” and support Jewish students.

What this means is undefined. Are people supposed to offer me support for my Jewishness as I walk to class? More important, how is she planning to facilitate this?

Did she call for a public campus gathering or meeting with Jewish students or leaders? No.

Of course, if it’s the Jewish community’s responsibility to combat antisemitism, that gives the chancellor the much easier responsibility to simply “uplift” them.

I couldn’t care less whether or not I’m uplifted — I want Nazis off my campus.

Students should expect more from their university when their identity — whether it be ethnicity, religion, race, sexuality or gender — is under attack. We should be talking openly about this; I expect to see the administration doing things.


Administrators should make clear the repercussions for such acts. I haven’t even heard the chancellor commit to expelling the students who celebrated Hitler’s birthday. Steps like these are key in showing the will to address this problem. The university has the right to expel students, regardless of whether they committed a crime, as long as the students violated UCSC’s principles of community, which the chancellor indicates they did. Whether it’s a class, a club, a dining hall or a dorm, students shouldn’t be forced to share spaces with Nazis.

Despite what the chancellor’s statement says, a proper response from my university to antisemitic acts would undo some harm. My anger is not just at the fact that Nazis exist on my campus. I’m more upset that those tasked with responding to these acts, like Chancellor Larive, aren’t doing enough about it.

For years, Jewish students have called for a Jewish resource center. We need a place in which Jewish students can find support, resources and somewhere to talk about events like these and how to move forward. The chancellor could also formally collaborate with Santa Cruz Hillel, which fulfills many of the needs of Jewish students and currently operates without any university support. This is what I mean by action.

It’s also crucial that UCSC supports students materially.

Our crisis in student quality of life — which stems from housing insecurity, the high cost of living and mental health challenges — makes the issue of hate on campus worse for everyone. Hatred spreads in a community filled with tension, where people are unsure where their next meal will come from and scared of losing housing.

Nobody should have to both fear Nazis on their campus and fear becoming unhoused. Recent antisemitism serves as just another reason to build housing, improve the quality and affordability of food and transportation, and improve access to mental health resources.

We must understand antisemitism as an outcropping of white supremacy.

While I could write as a part of the 7% of UCSC students who are Jewish, I’d rather be part of the overwhelming majority who oppose antisemitism and bigotry, and who desperately want a university that is safe, affordable and inclusive, where everyone can thrive.

Let’s organize against hatred from a position of strength. That means moving beyond an emphasis on marginality and focusing instead on solidarity. The reality of antisemitism reminds us just how important collective struggle is.

Bigotry looks a lot scarier when communities are disorganized and atomized. In 2017, after blatant acts of racism occurred in the Port of Oakland — including a noose being planted in the truck of a Black longshore worker — workers at the port walked out to protest these blatantly racist acts and force a response from management. Similarly, flight attendants unions have refused to transport Jan. 6 insurrectionists.

All students have not just a right, but a duty to combat antisemitism, as well as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and all identity-based oppression that takes place on our campus. If you aren’t already involved in the struggle, let’s work together to bring about concrete changes to support Jewish students.

This is the approach to hate that I hope to see at UCSC. Rather than living in fear and with indifference, we can choose organizing and solidarity.

Bodie Shargel is a second-year student at UC Santa Cruz majoring in music and minoring in the history of consciousness. He’s a leader in multiple political organizations both in Santa Cruz County and at UCSC, including as a board member of the Jewish Democratic Club of Silicon Valley.

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