SGA takes stance on antisemitism


Kiersten Riedford

Chava Novogrodsky-Godt, social chair of DePaul Hillel and junior, talks about her appreciation for Student Government Association (SGA) including Jewish students in the conversation when creating their statement addressing recent antisemitism on campus.

Student Government Association (SGA) held their first public discussion acknowledging the recent outbreaks of antisemitism and anti-Jewish incidents on campus on Thursday, Nov. 11. 

SGA received an anonymous letter from a DePaul senior roughly a week and a half prior, which prompted a closed-door discussion by the general body during their meeting on Nov. 3. A statement was then drafted by SGA and later amended in an open session on Nov. 11 with input from members of DePaul’s Jewish community. 

“We wanted to destigmatize the notion that we were doing something private,” DePaul senior and SGA president Kevin Holechko said. “Even though the process did take significantly longer than it might have in a closed-door discussion, I firmly believe we did the right thing. We took the first steps in addressing this problem as a community.”

The statement was originally drafted by junior Gabriel Goldberg, Senator for Mission and Ministry, and then edited by various members of SGA. The second draft was done by SGA senators Avery Schoenhals, senator for the college of communication and sophomore, and Zoe Bragado, senator for commuter students and junior. One of Goldberg’s main concerns was addressing the Vincentian mission and religious values in the response. Goldberg believes his perspectives as both an SGA senator and a Jewish student helped him bridge the gap between both groups.

“This is a culture and a religion that speaks out in a very Vincentian perspective by asking what must we do for our community,” Goldberg said. “We as DePaul students are recognized as individuals who give and support a community of diversity. Because of this, it is our duty and privilege to be able to get this interfaith and intercultural experience.”

Junior Chava Novogrodsky-Godt, social chair of DePaul Hillel, a Jewish student organization on campus, believes the statement is a promising first step toward change but wants to see action behind it. She said she acknowledges SGA wanting to work with the Jewish community and hopes the relationship that comes from their collaboration will inspire longer conversations about the issue.

“Oftentimes, especially college here, I feel Judaism has been conflated to politics, war and conflict, but it is a religion, it’s an ethnicity, it’s an ethno-religion. I wish people had a better understanding of what it was,” Novogrodsky-Godt said. “It’s important to listen to minority voices and understand who you’re sharing a campus with, even if it’s a small population.”

Of the Jewish student leaders present at the meeting, each student echoed sentiments of hope that addressing the antisemitism and anti-Jewish rhetoric on campus will lead to increased education about Judaism at DePaul. They encourage all students, regardless of faith or background, to attend Jewish cultural events as a way to increase participation for their organizations and create more visibility for Jewish students.

“My best way to fight antisemitism is to be more involved in the Jewish community, to go see my Jewish friends, to learn about something Jewish and I think that is something anybody can do,” said senior Emily Fridland, president of Chabad, a Jewish student organization on campus. 

In their statement, SGA added links to resources for students experiencing antisemitism and anti-Jewish rhetoric on campus. These resources include DePaul Hillel, DePaul Chabad and Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi). Senior Justin Fisher, president of AEPi, vice president of Chabad, said he believes the purpose of these organizations is to create a safe space and build a community for Jewish students. He said this is mainly done through support, which is especially important during the hard times Jewish students currently face. 

“I know personally this does feel like my home away from home even though I’m not far and because I’ve joined Chabad and joined Jewish life it truly has been so incredible,” said junior Danie Shvartsman, treasurer of Chabad. “Having this support and this community, I really never feel alone.” 

A religious pluralism training is currently being developed by the Office of Mission and Ministry to educate the community about issues regarding religious oppression. The training will include acknowledgements about antisemitism, along with Islamophobia and Catholicism’s impact on marginalized religions. 

“It’s an interesting thing because we go to a Catholic university, so how much can we expect support for the other faiths?” Fridland said. “But, it’s not necessarily support that we’re looking for, it’s respect. This year there has been an effort to have interfaith events and to have religions come together to learn about each other. Just having student government and administration present at those I feel shows us the respect that we’re looking for.”

While all agree that what they have seen thus far from SGA and administration is a good indication of change, Fisher said it may come too late since these issues have been happening on campus for years. He said conversations with administration did not stick in the past, but the recent media coverage of antisemitism and the anonymous letter that was sent to SGA has finally spurred DePaul into action. 

“I’m grateful this is happening but in the past it was never as much as we’re seeing now,” Fisher said. “The biggest part with this new administration is there are people pushing to make sure every student group, not just the Jewish community but all communities, are heard and cared about.” 

Simply by inviting Jewish students to the meeting and listening to their input on the statement, the Jewish student leaders are hopeful for the positive outcomes they believe will follow SGA’s action. While there is still more to be done, Novogrodsky-Godt hopes it is a movement toward partnership and change.

“It often feels like people are talking about us but not with us or to us,” Novogrodsky-Godt said. “I do think this is a huge step for SGA to put out a statement about being Jewish on campus and I feel that we’re all ready to work to make sure something does come out of it. It feels great to have some recognition.”