As students trickled into the Reitz Union Rion Ballroom, a single white note card adorned each of their seats. Later, they would use the space to scribble down questions, asking anything from: “What constitutes violent hate speech?” to “Should I outwardly wear my Star of David?”
A four-person panel, organized by the office of the Chief Diversity Officer in partnership with UF Hillel and UF Chabad-Lubavitch, met to discuss and answer questions about the rise in antisemitism on campus Wednesday night. The panelists passed around a microphone as they answered questions written down from about 50 audience members.
UF has seen a series of antisemitic events and writings in the past six months, the most recent of which was several chalk messages scrawled across campus reading “Ye Was Right.” The messages in reference to antisemitic comments made by the musician formerly known Kanye West in late 2022.
In January, there was also a reported Nazi hate symbol etched into the wall of the seventh floor of the commuter parking lot.
UF Chief Diversity Officer Marsha McGriff introduced and moderated the event, while Lyrissa Lidsky, a UF law professor; Linda Stump, chief of the University Police Department; and Lane Washington, interim assistant vice president for student life, sat on the panel.
Panelists emphasized the importance of collaboration between multiple communities in the fight against antisemitism. Hate is a shared struggle between groups, Washington said.
“I think of the phrase ‘the tide raises all ships,’” Washington said. “ I know that it’s weird to describe that in terms of hate, but at the same time, for us as a collective, it's really important for there to be collaboration across communities.”
Some students expressed fear of openly wearing Jewish symbols, like the Star of David. Others were fearful of antisemitic activity.
As a Jewish mother, Lidsky has been more aware of suspicious or antisemitic activity in recent years than in the past, she said.
“I understand the fear part,” Lidsky said. “I think you can't live in fear, but you do have to make a case by case analysis of every situation you're in, whether you feel safe enough to embrace all pieces of your identity in that moment, or whether you don't.”
For students struggling emotionally with antisemitism, panelists mentioned the Counseling and Wellness Center, which can provide resources for students in need of emotional support.
Stump urged students to report instances of antisemitism through the GatorSafe app, which allows users to take photos of an incident and immediately send a report. The panelists also mentioned students can use the myGNV app to report incidents off campus.
Before the panelists took to the stage, Rabbi Jonah Zinn from UF Hillel led a student discussion on personal experiences with antisemitism. Naomi Rozenberg, a student originally from Brussels, Belgium, shared with the audience that she was beginning to experience similar antisemitism in Gainesville to that she escaped from in Brussels.
“What's been happening lately has definitely felt familiar,” Rozenberg said. “And it's not the type of familiar that feels like home. At least, not a home you want to go back to.”
In a brief speech, Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward reminded the crowd that hate has no place in the city. Students deserve to feel safe in Gainesville, he said.
“I've never had to think of it as the Jewish community in Gainesville,” Ward said. “It's Gainesville. We're all in this together, and we need to keep it that way.”
Mason Solomon, a 19-year-old UF political science and criminology sophomore who attended the panel, thought it was a good first step toward fighting antisemitism, he said.
“I'm happy that we're doing this,” he said. “Moving forward, we need to have more conversations exactly like this in order to actually see change made.”
Contact Alissa at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AlissaGary1.
Alissa Gary is a journalism freshman and university administration reporter at The Alligator. Aside from writing, she loves spending time with her cats, catching up on Jeopardy, and seeing the latest movies.