Before a protest-filled summer, the position of Equity and Social Justice chair didn’t exist at Sigma Delta Tau, a predominantly Jewish sorority at the University of Georgia.
Melody Zadeh is the first sorority member to hold the title.
After the death of George Floyd on May 25 and nationwide protests, SDT decided to take a decisive stance and openly promote the fight against anti-Semitism at the intersection of the Black Lives Matter movement.
At UGA, Zadeh said she has never experienced anti-Semitism firsthand, but some of her sorority sisters can’t say the same.
Zadeh said swastikas were drawn on one of her sorority sister’s dorm room doors in Russell Hall last fall, and she’s vocal about speaking out against the incident.
Zadeh said the Jewish and Black communities are both minorities oppressed by the same people and must work together to fight oppression.
“Jewish people, especially those that are white, have a responsibility to stand with the Black community and support BLM,” Zadeh said. “Defining the distinction between Jews and traditional ‘whiteness’ definitely doesn’t make us immune to white privilege in America or give us any excuse not to stand up for them and fight anti-Black racism.”
Zadeh said she spreads awareness on social media and has posted and shared stories about anti-Semitism from an Instagram page called Anti-Semitism Stories.
Spreading awareness on social media
The Instagram page Anti-Semitism Stories was created for Jewish students to share their anti-Semitic experiences in schools and on campuses across the country, according to the page. UGA students are among many across the U.S. anonymously sharing their stories.
“Oh, you don’t look Jewish,” one UGA student was told, according to a story on Instagram. “Oh, this is the Jewish fraternity. Can’t you tell with their big noses?” the same student was also told.
Another UGA student explained how the university doesn’t recognize Jewish holidays. When holidays coincide with university events, some Jewish students feel that they have to choose between being a part of the Jewish community or being a part of the UGA community, which is a choice that students shouldn’t have to make, another student said on Instagram.
Judaism is not the only religion excluded from university recognition. According to UGA’s holiday schedule, Christmas is the only religious holiday that the university recognizes.
David Hoffman, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s southeast region, said he doesn’t think most students have the background or the resources to know where to go when hateful or anti-Semitic incidents happen to them.
That’s why many anti-Semitic incidents go unreported, Hoffman said.
“On college campuses, one of the things that we recognize is that there are trainings for substance abuse and domestic abuse, but are there trainings for responding when you see or witness an incident of bias or hate?” Hoffman said. “Anti-Semitic, racist or homophobic — Is there a resource that students have access to?”
Responding and reporting
“Everything we do matters. It’s a choice each of us makes every minute in terms of how we are going to treat other people,” said Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander, an associate professor of employment law and legal studies at UGA. “Whether we’re going to laugh at that joke, or to say, ‘I don’t think that’s funny. Can you explain that to me?’”
Bennett-Alexander said it’s important to speak up but not be confrontational or combative. It can start with one question to make people rethink racist or anti-Semitic comments, she said.
“It's never going to be comfortable. You're always going to feel like you're going against the grain. But if you are silent, nobody knows. And if they don't know, there's nothing they can do about it,” Bennett-Alexander said. “Will it make them uncomfortable? Yes. Do they deserve to be uncomfortable? Yeah. It's all a part of learning.”
Bennett-Alexander said she’s spoken out publicly in the past about how the UGA community has no room for anti-Semitism or hate of any kind.
In response to the swastikas being drawn on the freshman’s door, Bennett-Alexander said racist and hateful acts are not representative of the entire UGA community.
“Violence towards any marginalized community doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere, it’s because these attitudes of bias, this name-calling or these jokes are allowed to go unchecked, and it makes perpetrators feel more emboldened,” Hoffman said.
By allowing these acts of bias and hate to persist, it makes higher or more damaging acts feel more tolerable, Hoffman said.
“Just speak up in the ways that are appropriate for your setting,” Bennett-Alexander said. “Martin Luther King Jr. said that the [Ku Klux Klan] is not what he is worried about, that’s not who is causing the big problem here. The real problem comes from the masses of people who stand by and say nothing at all.”
Zadeh said UGA and the Panhellenic Council should provide resources and make reporting incidents of racism and discrimination easier for students on campus. As a sorority member, Zadeh said she doesn’t initially know where to submit complaints or incidents if she had one.
“Instead of making a statement or sending an email that says they’re standing against racism or anti-Semitism, they could actually take action,” Zadeh said.
Hoffman said students who wish to report incidents of hate on campus should go to the ADL’s website and the ADL will work with campus connections to safely respond, take appropriate action and protect people who have been targeted.
“We know that hate does not discriminate. Someone, who is targeting Jews with anti-Semitic slurs is probably harboring some sort of hate against people of color, against immigrants and against the LGBT[Q] community,” Hoffman said.
“We do believe that sunlight is the biggest disinfectant," he said. "The more people report to us, the more we can say that this is really happening. That allows the community to feel more empowered to act in response.”