At this very moment, there exists a silver spray-painted swastika on the sidewalk of North University Avenue. Directly across the street from some of our academic buildings, a symbol of hatred is lurking, incognito. As a Jewish woman fighting to navigate my identity in this Christian-dominated society, stumbling across this image between classes made me feel scared, isolated and despondent.
On a campus where roughly 20 percent of students are Jewish, many of my peers are quick to dismiss issues of anti-Semitism. To many, my life, and the lives of my Jewish peers, seems quite privileged. There are many of us here walking the same halls, taking the same classes and living all-around similar lives to our Christian counterparts. We are a minority population, yes, but we have large representation and equal opportunity here, and therefore our identity struggles are treated relatively dismissively the moment we step foot on campus.
I’ll be the first to admit that Judaism has served me relatively well in my ability to maintain privilege in society. Fortunately for us, many Jews are now considered white in a way that our religious minority peers often are not. However, our ability to “pass” only gets us so far. I am often frustrated by the need to educate my Christian peers on my belief system, or to speak on behalf of the entire Jewish population. There are several spaces on campus in which I might be unwelcome as a Jewish woman, and I feel uncomfortable throughout December as Christmas music suddenly surrounds me everywhere I go. And then there’s the swastika on the sidewalk outside Panera.
Contrary to popular belief, the life of a Jewish student at the University of Michigan is far from privileged. Real privilege is when there isn’t a symbol for wanting you dead.
As we continue in our fight for radical change in our campus’s demographic makeup, I hope that the University is able to see beyond numbers. The problems on campus do not go away with higher representation, but rather a complete reformation of campus attitudes, power dynamics and educational tactics. Last week a professor of mine explained to me the true difference between equity and equality. Equality, she said, is a world in which everyone is given the same pair of shoes. Equity is a world in which everyone is given a pair of shoes that fits them personally. It’s not enough for the University to enroll more “diverse” students, to give them each a pair of shoes. Racism, classism and many other “isms” are alive and rampant on our campus today. Their existence inherently prohibits minority students from feeling that our shoes truly fit, no matter how many of us are walking around in them.
As the University goes forward in its efforts to diversify, I hope that it’s remembered that the world is much more complex, subjective and personal than statistics in a handbook. Numerical representation does not eliminate oppression, and handing us all shoes does not make them fit.
Elena Ross is an LSA sophomore.