Op-Ed: Addressing the elephant in the room: A Jewish student’s experience with antisemitism at DePaul


Kiersten Riedford

SGA vice president Magoli Garcia and president Kevin Holcheko lead discussion regarding antisemitism at DePaul during an SGA meeting on 11/11.

Over the course of my years as a student at DePaul, I have never shied away from calling out the university’s silence in the face of our systemic antisemitism problem. Hatred towards Jews is not only flagrantly rising but actually built into the fabric of this university. This time, however, I am writing to express gratitude. 

Thanks to the brave voice of an anonymous student and the senators of the Student Government Association, SGA, Jewish students had the opportunity to share their experiences with those in power at DePaul. While antisemitism continues to threaten the Jewish community, this past week, SGA  allocated time during their public meeting to read outloud a letter from a Jewish DePaul student. 

The anonymous author illustrated the climate of intolerance, one that not only lessened their individual ability to thrive, but one that threatens the broader Jewish community. The letter rightly states that antisemitism is not a partisan issue. There is antisemitism on the right and on the left. The letter focused on this anonymous student’s personal experience on campus, as well as their desire to fight against antisemitism that was dampened by the campus climate. Because of their experiences, they did not feel comfortable signing this letter with their name. While this letter came as a surprise to the DePaul community, the contents were all too familiar to the Jewish community. Incredibly, however, the letter spurred the SGA to craft and share a statement speaking out against antisemitism, something that the Jewish community has been asking for over several years. 

The statement, shared on Instagram by the SGA, begins by stating: “We, as the DePaul Student Government Association, strongly condemn the continued, systemic, and dramatic escalation of anti-Jewish acts and rhetoric, including incidents of antisemitism on campus. These incidents and ideas undermine our collective Vincentian mission and values here at DePaul, which are to build bridges and ensure all students feel safe and included on campus”. 

As a member of the Jewish community, I am thanking the DePaul SGA for taking the time to acknowledge antisemitism and the toll it is taking on Jewish students. It is much easier to face hate when you are not alone. I appreciate the SGA senators and all attendees to the meeting on Nov. 10 for providing a space where Jewish student leaders felt comfortable to openly share their experiences. 

Emily Lightman and Justin Fischer were just two of the many Jewish students in attendance who felt heard and seen by the DePaul community during this meeting. Lightman called for a more localized,DePaul specific, statement from both SGA and the university at large.  A main point raised by Fischer and echoed by the students in the room was that antisemitism is an issue many Jewish students and leaders have faced over the years. She and othersfeels  the topic of antisemitism has been neglected despite repeated efforts to bring it to the university’s attention. 

When I reached out to DePaul’s President Rob Manuel about his thoughts on the recent incidents of antisemitism and the Jewish student letter he shared the following:

“I am very proud of SGA for showing care for their fellow students and speaking out against antisemitism. Their call to build bridges and to ensure all students feel safe and included resonates deeply with me. We must transform DePaul into a radically welcoming space, in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul’s call for radical hospitality.

Antisemitism has absolutely no place at DePaul. We are committed to work collaboratively and tirelessly to ensure we cultivate and promote an environment of well-being that is supportive and safe for everyone in our community. We are working closely with our external partners in the Jewish community to address any concerns and implement their recommendations. Conversations also are happening across the university from the Jewish life coordinator to my office to the Joint Council, which includes all the deans and administrative leadership. As one example, DePaul developed Religious Diversity training on antisemitism, anti-islamophobia, and Christian privilege with direct input from the Jewish United Fund and Hillel.

I am very proud and appreciative of students who come forward to share their concerns and experiences. Anyone who has been the subject of—or has witnessed or is aware of—discrimination, harassment, or retaliation is urged to make us aware as soon as possible. DePaul Jewish Life staff and other members of the Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care staff team are always here to help our students.”

This truly incredible statement from the newly inaugurated President gives hope to the Jewish community that moving forward, DePaul will recognize and speak up against antisemitism in all of its forms. For the first time, the DePaul Jewish community feels seen, heard and understood.Now, we know that we matter. After the president’s Joint Council meeting mentioned in the statement, we are hopeful that the university will take steps to publicly denounce antisemitism and support its Jewish students. Thank you to all of the Jewish students and members of the DePaul faculty that were able to attend the meeting in support of the community including: Emily Lightman, Justin Fischer, Emily Fridland, Dani Shvartsman and Michael Loizzo. Jen Goldberg from the Jewish Life Space and Rev Diane Dardon, from Mission and Ministry, were also present.

While there is further to go, the statements from both SGA and Pres. Manuel has given the Jewish community the feeling, for the first time in a very long time, that we are truly a part of the DePaul community.

 For more information on the Jewish community here at DePaul:

Jewish Life Space: [email protected]

DePaul Hillel: [email protected]

Lincoln Park Chabad: jewishlincolnpark.com