U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Towson University on Thursday for a discussion with students about the rise in antisemitism, a topic heightened by the Israel-Hamas war.
Towson was the last stop on a five-school tour, part of the education department’s Antisemitism Awareness Campaign. Neera Tanden, a domestic policy adviser to President Joe Biden, and Mark Ginsberg, Towson University president, joined Cardona in the conversation.
More than 20 students from Towson, the Johns Hopkins University, Goucher College and the University of Maryland, Baltimore described feeling scared on campus since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack and continuing war. Although no student reported violent acts in recent weeks, some said they have been subject to hate speech, threatened in verbal altercations and intimidated by rallies supporting Palestine.
“I’ve been incredibly moved — to tears at times — and I’m so glad to have this conversation,” said Ginsberg, who began his tenure as president this week. Ginsberg, who is Jewish, said the students’ experiences mirrored his own.
“I fear the very things we’ve talked about could actually accelerate and spiral,” Ginsberg said. “We have to do everything we can as a community, as a university, as an institution, as a Baltimore region, to try to manage this in a way that doesn’t permit a cataclysmic” event.
Attacks against Arab and Muslim people are rising, too, Tanden said.
More than 9,000 Palestinians have died since the war started four weeks ago, including 3,700 children. Over 1,400 Israelis have died, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’ initial attack, and more than 200 people were taken hostage in Gaza. The death toll is without precedent in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence and is around four times the figure from the 2014 Gaza war, which lasted over six weeks
In May, Biden launched a “National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism” to raise awareness of the increase in antisemitic incidents, the White House said. Jews are victims in 63% of religiously motivated hate crimes in the U.S., despite accounting for 2.4% of the population, according to FBI data.
Cardona visited both urban and rural campuses, religious and secular colleges, and K-12 schools as part of the campaign.
“I’m not Jewish, but I’m appalled and horrified by what I’m hearing,” Cardona said. “And I want to tell you directly: We’ve got your back.”
At Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, school officials canceled classes Friday, citing the “extraordinary stress” on students brought by a surge of online antisemitic threats. A Cornell student has been charged with making threats to kill or injure Jewish people.
Casey Brody, president of the Hillel Student Board at Hopkins, said members are also facing harassment and being called out by name on anonymous online forums.
“...I feel like for myself and also as a president of Hillel, I need to be on top of it, and I need to be seeing all of the content that comes through, even though it’s very draining for my own mental health,” Brody said.
The Evening Sun
Hillel, an organization and cultural hub for Jewish students on many college campuses, has been met with growing animosity by other students instead of being regarded as a safe space, Goucher student Rebecca Siemers said.
At Towson, a Jewish student was followed to class and harassed by another student after she participated in a morning prayer group, said Max Zimmerman, who started the group. Other students have repeatedly scribbled antisemitic messages on a chalkboard in Freedom Square.
“It’s scary for us,” said Maytal Fleisher, a Towson student.
Spokespersons for Baltimore County and Baltimore City public schools said there have been no recent reports of hate or bias incidents against Jewish or Muslim students.
Those in attendance Thursday asked Cardona and Tanden to put pressure on university and college officials to condemn hate speech and issue stronger statements in support of Israel.
“At Towson University, we’ve been pretty fortunate that the antisemitic incidents that have happened since Oct. 7 have been, in large part, nowhere near as bad as what we’re seeing in other universities,” said Ari Rubin, a senior. “But still, it’s in the back of our minds that … it feels imminent, that something is coming, and that is terrifying.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.