top of page

An open letter to our Jewish students

We, Vanderbilt faculty, stand in solidarity with Jewish members of our student community.


In March, activists petitioned to require student groups, including your Jewish chaplaincies, Hillel and Chabad, to abide by a boycott of Israel. Although we take diverse stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we are united in our commitment to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.

We are concerned by efforts to utilize institutions of governance as a lever of power to compel student groups to participate in boycotts against their will or suffer consequences. Those who wish to boycott other countries should be free to follow their conscience. We are troubled, however, at the notion of a student body that is 80-85% non-Jewish voting to force Jewish student organizations to participate in a boycott of Israel in order to be allowed to utilize student activity fee funding. No one should be forced to forswear their own identity just to belong. It is offensive that people would make an exception for Jews. We appreciate why so many Jewish students feel that, referendum or no, the petition alone is degrading. When it feels like your classmates are making your identities the subject of a vote, we can understand how the protestors’ slogan, “let us vote,” might ring hollow, as if democratic language is being used to advance illiberal ends. We are sorry that you are being made to endure this. You deserve to be treated with the same dignity as everyone else.


On paper, the proposed boycott policy applies equally to all student groups. In practice, its burdens would not be distributed evenly. They would hit Vanderbilt’s Jewish chaplaincies hardest. These are inequities. Although the call to boycott is presented as being about Gaza and being directed at Israel, this VSG amendment is local. It strikes primarily at Jewish organizations at Vanderbilt.

For Jews, boycotts are no neutral symbol. They evoke a long and dark history of policies to isolate and exclude Jews. We sense with increasing concern that our campus discourse has ignored or minimized this history, even as a proposed student government policy risks reproducing a form of oppression that has specifically harmed Jews in the past.

Our month of March here might have unfolded differently had our students, faculty, VSG, student newspaper, or administration forthrightly acknowledged from the outset that the boycott campaign violated the values of openness and respect enshrined in Vanderbilt’s Community Creed. It neither “promoted a culture of civility,” nor treated you with “equity, inclusivity or respect.”

No university attorney need ever have begun thinking about the boycott’s legal consequences under federal or Tennessee state law. All we needed to do was open our own student-initiated Community Creed and insist that we live up to the values that we profess.

These are intensely difficult times for many of us here at Vanderbilt. In our Jewish, Israeli, Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities, many of us are grieving. Please show compassion and love for your fellow students. Please recognize the humanity in everyone.

We encourage students and faculty to speak their minds about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with passion and courage, to study the issues with curiosity and humility, to challenge their own and others’ assumptions through active participation in constructive conversations about our differences, to openly engage with ideas, experiences, and with one another, and to do so within a culture of civility grounded in equity, inclusivity, and respect.

Read publicly at Vanderbilt Hillel and at Chabad of Vanderbilt

29 March 2024

bottom of page