UCSC provost Lori Kletzer says battling antisemitism will take long-term cultural change

UCSC Campus Provost Lori Kletzer discusses the university's response to antisemitism.
UCSC Campus Provost Lori Kletzer discusses the university’s response to antisemitism.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

UC Santa Cruz’s participation in the Hillel International Campus Climate Initiative is “the way for us to live up to this responsibility to not only speak out, but to also take action” on antisemitism, university second-in-command Lori Kletzer told Lookout in the wake of incidents connected to campus and outcry from Jewish students and leaders about a lack of support.

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UC Santa Cruz’s campus provost says the school’s senior leadership is working to better understand the issue of antisemitism on college campuses — including joining an initiative this summer to strengthen support for Jewish students — in the wake of recent hate incidents connected to the university.

Lori Kletzer, UCSC’s campus provost and executive vice chancellor, sat down with Lookout on Monday to talk about what the university hopes to accomplish through joining Hillel International’s Campus Climate Initiative.

Hillel International, a nonprofit supporting Jewish university students, is hosting its fourth cohort of universities in a 16-month program helping them to understand the state of antisemitism on their campuses and come up with ways to address it. Four UC Santa Cruz leaders and the Santa Cruz Hillel executive director will join other university and Hillel leaders this August.

Kletzer, who is second in command after Chancellor Cynthia Larive, said the initiative will help campus leadership to better understand what antisemitism is and “what it means to combat antisemitism in a way that doesn’t just rely on religious identity.”

“We’ve never done anything like that before,” she added.

Kletzer’s public comments are the first from a senior UCSC administrator since the university issued two statements in April about antisemitism and anti-LGBTQIA+ incidents connected to campus. Officials said a group of students celebrated Adolf Hitler’s birthday on campus and antisemitic and anti-LGBTQIA+ flyers were found on students’ cars downtown.

Regarding the birthday party, Kletzer declined to share details about where campus officials are in the investigation, how many students were involved and what college or campus affiliations they had, but only that the student conduct process is taking place.

“It is always hard to know when a student conduct process comes to a place where there actually can be any kind of public disclosures,” she said. “There are all sorts of privacy rights. I’m not sure when, and I’m also not sure what we’ll be able to say.”

Following the reports, some Jewish students and faculty criticized the university’s statements on the incidents and called on the campus to take more action to support Jewish students. Kletzer acknowledged the criticism and said joining the Campus Climate Initiative shows that the university is doing more than just sending messages to faculty and issuing statements.

“Our Jewish students, in particular, while they applaud that we come out with a strong statement every time, they understandably are impatient with an approach that is more talk than it is action,” she said. “I see [the initiative] is the way for us to live up to this responsibility to not only speak out, but to also take action.”

Kletzer said the initiative is one way for UCSC leaders to take responsibility for helping the campus respond more systematically to rising incidents of antisemitism across the country. She said it will take long-term cultural change.

UC Santa Cruz Campus Provost Lori Kletzer discusses the university's response to antisemitism.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz )

“While [the initiative] is very focused on antisemitism and how to combat antisemitism — I’m not about to say that all hate speech and hate behavior is the same,” she said. “I think a conscious, explicit campus leadership effort that is also attached to the larger community here, in this case, local Hillel, is a great big signal that we are very serious about hate speech and hate behavior. And it is absolutely our intention that we take what we learn and we broaden it to the entire campus community. That it is not going to be tolerated and that we are going to address it in a systematic way.”

Kletzer is among the four university members participating in the Hillel initiative. The others are Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Success Akirah Bradley-Armstrong, Dean of Students Garrett Naiman and Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Anju Reejhsinghani to participate in the initiative. Incoming Santa Cruz Hillel executive director Becka Ross will be joining them.

UCSC is the second University of California campus to participate in the initiative, and Kletzer said a third UC might join this year as well. Kletzer added that the initiative also acknowledges “that no campus can do this work alone.”

College and university campuses saw the number of antisemitic incidents reported increase by 41% in 2022, mirroring rising reports across the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Campus Climate Initiative was launched in 2020.

Kletzer said the most immediate benefit to joining the initiative is having a cohort of university leaders, Hillel Santa Cruz as well as another UC campus to reach out to for support.

“I also think it will slightly lower the kind of wall between campus leadership and Hillel in a way that says, you can reach out to local campus Hillel as a university leader,” she said. “And, forgive me for saying this in a slightly jarring way, you don’t have to be Jewish to do it.”

Kletzer said it’s often the case that campus leadership relies on Jewish university administrators to reach out to Hillel to communicate — which is a “fine relationship.”

“But that’s not a structured, systematic relationship,” she said. “When we’re all working together, those connections are going to happen whether people happen to be Jewish, or do not happen to be Jewish.”

Kletzer said that as the four campus leaders participate, they’ll be sharing their knowledge and skills with their teams on campus as the program continues.

One example of a challenge Kletzer expects to get insight on is how to address faculty who don’t allow Jewish students to engage in religious observances when they conflict with the regular academic calendar. Students told Lookout that despite campus messages telling professors to respect that Jewish students would be missing class during the High Holy Days, some faculty continue requiring students to complete assignments or take exams.

“This is exactly the kind of question we’re going to ask the cohort. If we’ve got a solution for 90% of the faculty, what do you do with that remaining 10%?” Kletzer asked. “Some of those 10% are just our instructors who don’t get it. Likely a few of them just don’t want to, but we actually have to be able to address every single one.”

Kletzer said she thinks there could be improved ways that students can register a complaint or ways the campus can better engage with faculty to help them understand what the directives and messages, such as respecting Jewish holidays, really mean.


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