Washington, DC — With the goal of reigniting the historic alliance between Black and Jewish communities in the U.S., the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) will be funding a groundbreaking project to educate and train HBCU faculty and students about the shared history of Black-Jewish solidarity while preparing them to confront current manifestations of antisemitism and promoting a deeper understanding of Jewish identity and Israel.

As Jewish refugee scholars fled Nazi Germany to the United States, they encountered systemic barriers in academia, with few exceptions. Notably, HBCUs provided visas and employment to 50 German Jewish scholars, saving their lives and fostering a unique bond between the Black and Jewish communities. This initiative seeks to evoke this inspiring history by empowering HBCUs to combat contemporary antisemitism and efforts by extremists to drive a wedge between Black and Jewish communities. 

Supported by AEN’s Antisemitism Education Initiative, the project’s lead investigators join faculty at  seven other schools of higher education who have recently received AEN grants to launch  antisemitism awareness programs and resources on their campuses and beyond. The funding is designed to create sustainable mechanisms to educate and train campus stakeholders – including administrators, faculty, and students – about the diversity of Jewish experience, historic and contemporary manifestations of antisemitism, and strategies to improve inclusivity.  Tailored to the specific culture and needs of each of each campus, the grants award a maximum of $25,000 per year renewable for up to three years to faculty members in partnership with administrators and student-facing organizations. 

Reigniting the Historic Alliance: Preparing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to Confront Antisemitism will be led by two professors at the University of South Carolina, Drs. Meir Muller and Devin Randolph.  Dr. Randolph, who also holds the position of Assistant Professor and serves as the Founding Director of Environmental and Social Justice at Voorhees University, explains the vision of the initiative: “At the heart of this approach is the emphasis on creating inclusive and diverse spaces. I see this endeavor as something truly invaluable, drawing from a legacy of resilience and aspirations for a future marked by understanding and progress.” Muller, an ordained rabbi with a PhD in education, added, “We acknowledge that we are in a time when the alliance between our communities is strained, yet we believe that the foundation for solidarity is present and can be revitalized through educational endeavors.”

The project will pilot educational efforts at two HBCUs in the South Carolina Midlands area in its first year with plans to expand to 5-7 additional HBCUs in the state of South Carolina in the second and third year of the program. Leveraging the existing and highly successful University 101 academic program, the initiative will offer professional development seminars and student-focused sessions, drawing on the expertise of the Anne Frank Center (AFC) and its proven methods of “remember, reflect, and respond.” Selected students from each campus will receive additional training and will serve as ambassadors for the project. Each HBCU will also establish incident response teams to address antisemitism swiftly and effectively and to establish best practices.

The President of Voorhees University, Dr. Ronnie Hopkins, reflected on his university’s participation in the pilot program: “This grant may mark a new beginning, but the bond between our communities is not new; it is steeped in history. Our students are poised to become the future leaders of various fields, including industry, business, science, and law. It is imperative that they are equipped to combat all forms of hatred, including antisemitism.”

Antisemitism Education Initiative grants are among a number of programs and projects that AEN is supporting through its Improving the Campus Climate Initiative (ICCI), launched in 2020, which engages senior and mid-level officials in Student and Academic Affairs, DEI, and related offices on campuses throughout the country, providing expert, customized guidance, training, and best practices for understanding, identifying, and countering antisemitism on campus.  The Initiative has reached over 3000 administrators through its various professional development programs.   

AEN’s Director of the Improving the Campus Climate Initiative, Naomi Greenspan, shared, “At a time of increased antisemitism across the U.S., we are pleased to support such an important initiative to bring allies into our work against antisemitism. The work with HBCUs in South Carolina will provide an important model for similar initiatives nationwide.”