Union selected for Hillel International Campus Climate Initiative

Publication Date

Union is partnering with Hillel International, the world's largest Jewish campus organization, to better understand, strengthen and enhance the environment for Jewish students. The initiative is part of the College’s broader diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging work to ensure that all at Union are able to thrive and have a strong sense of belonging.

The College was chosen as part of the fifth cohort of schools to participate in Hillel’s Campus Climate Initiative. The initiative, which begins in early March, collaborates with higher education administrators to ensure a positive campus climate in which Jewish students feel comfortable expressing their identity and values, free of antisemitism, harassment or marginalization. Since it was created in 2020, more than 50 colleges and universities have participated in the initiative.

Union is partnering with Hillel International, the world's largest Jewish campus organization, to better understand, strengthen and enhance the environment for Jewish students.

Members of Union College Hillel

Working with their Hillel leaders, the program helps college and university administrators explore strategies with colleagues across the country to develop a specific action plan to help Jewish students, and all students, feel supported.

This includes three critical steps:

  • Gathering, assessing and using data to better understand the current climate for Jewish students on their campus to inform strategic next steps
  • Training and empowering university administration and staff to better understand the needs of Jewish students, the diversity of the Jewish community and the challenges of campus antisemitism through a 10-month educational curriculum
  • Creating and adopting best practice policies, procedures and programs to address antisemitism and foster a positive campus climate for Jewish students and all students

Approximately 12 percent of Union’s student body is Jewish, and members of its Hillel have included students from all denominations of Judaism. Hillel-organized events include Shabbat services and home-cooked dinners, Sunday brunches, academic forums, holiday celebrations and Taglit birthright trips to Israel.

Hillel International works with thousands of students globally to enrich their college experience. Union has been affiliated with the organization since 1956. In 2009, the College was designated a “Small & Mighty Campus of Excellence” by the organization, a distinction that offers a number of resources and privileges, including funding for peer immersion experiences.

“The Hillel Campus Climate Initiative is in the best spirit of Union’s founding premise as a place where individuals of different backgrounds and faiths could come together to learn from one another,” said Annette Diorio, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. She is leading the Union cohort, which includes key representatives from across campus working alongside Bonnie Cramer, Union’s Hillel director.

“We are excited to work with Hillel to learn and develop strategies that will help all our students feel more welcome on campus,” Diorio added.

The Hillel Campus Climate Initiative is among a number of steps Union has recently taken, or will soon take, to strengthen a campus environment that prizes knowledge and constructive engagement to combat hate in all forms and promote greater faith-based understanding for all in the community. The College:

  • Will work with the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) to conduct a diversity and equity campus climate survey of all community members this spring, which will give the College the ability to compare experiences and belonging across a range of racial, ethnic, gender, religious and other identity groups.
  • Launched the winter term with a meeting between faith advisers and leadership within Student Affairs to ensure open communication and collaboration to support regular meetings led by Union’s chief diversity officer for student success, Dru Alvez.
  • Hosted a community forum on constructive engagement in January featuring members of Schenectady Clergy Against Hate, a network of Jewish, Sikh, Christian, Muslim and Pagan faith leaders.
  • Is re-imagining its Holocaust mini-term to be based in Berlin, Germany, with a short trip to Krakow and the neighboring Auschwitz memorial in Poland. Content would be modified from previous terms to include more material on the rise of antisemitism in Germany before the war, but would still emphasize the Holocaust. The College had previously offered a mini-term on the Holocaust until it was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Clarified policies for campus events to protect free speech and student safety.
  • Is reviewing its bias reporting process and the ways in which it communicates about this process to make it more clear to the community how to report an incident.

These actions are consistent with the College’s longstanding effort to combat hate. President David R. Harris stressed last fall that Union remains steadfast in fighting hate in all forms, be it antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism or other forms of bias.

“Union must continue to be a safe home for education, informed discourse, and a respectful exchange of perspectives and ideas,” he said in a campus message in November. “Anything less is antithetical to the values of Union and has no place on our campus, in the words we use, or in our hearts.”