CHANCELL-ING: Standing Together Against Hate

I normally like to use this column for an upbeat and positive message. However, current events have compelled me to make a necessary adjustment.

Blue graphic of Chancellor Gary S. May with text: Gary May Chancell-ing. A town-gown newspaper column.

As we look forward to a new academic year and all the positive energy that comes with it, I am genuinely disgusted by the antisemitic banners that were displayed last month on the Highway 113 bicycle overpass, just west of campus. It’s not clear who was behind that vile act, other than four masked men. We do know that a similar incident occurred the previous week. We have no evidence to indicate that the perpetrators were members of the UC Davis community or affiliated with the university in any way.

I have already condemned these cowardly and heinous actions; I do so again now. This condemnation is expressed in solidarity with city of Davis Mayor Lucas Frerichs, as well as with Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen for similar recent acts of antisemitism on that campus.

A disturbing trend

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported earlier this year that antisemitic behavior has increased 34% from the previous year, with 2,717 incidents nationwide in 2021. That amounts to an average of more than seven antisemitic incidents each day. These numbers are the highest the ADL has seen in nearly half a century.

Our local incidents alone have taken a toll on our Jewish faculty, students, staff and extended community, and that toll cannot be overstated.

Let me be clear: whatever their affiliation may be, the perpetrators of these crimes do not in any way embody the values of UC Davis. Their actions represent the antithesis of our Principles of Community. We remain committed to an inclusive environment. We will continue to work diligently to support the Jewish community on campus.

Standing together

We have taken steps in recent years to do more to combat antisemitism. In 2017, we supported an ADL workshop on white supremacy, hate groups, antisemitism and Islamophobia that was held at the Student Community Center. We have invited the ADL to return to campus.

Since 2017, we have encouraged Jewish students to meet with leadership, including myself, the vice chancellors for Student Affairs and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and other campus leaders. Our students have connected with UC Davis’ Cross Cultural Center, the Center for Student Involvement, the executive director of the community resource and retention centers, and the Middle East, North African, South Asian (MENASA) student resources director. We also have ongoing collaboration with the Hillel at Davis and Sacramento executive director and staff.

Through these meetings and relationships, we have worked with students to empower them to host forums and workshops. We have listened to their concerns, referred them to appropriate offices for support, and worked to address issues that arose during our conversations. For instance, as the result of a conversation in the fall of 2018, ASUCD and Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi partnered together to plan and host an event with the ADL, “Combating Antisemitism as Student Leaders.”

These meetings also helped bring about a Jewish Student Life advisory council that was established in 2020 and activated in 2021. It was created — upon my personal recommendation — in cooperation with Hillel at Davis and Sacramento and includes Jewish student leaders, Hillel board members, Davis faculty and leadership, community representatives and others. This council helped launch a Jewish speaker series earlier this year, which brought student rabbi and UC Davis alumna Aria Caligiuri to campus, as well as Mayor Steinberg and his wife, Julie Steinberg.

In the fall of 2021, we held an educational session on antisemitism for all members of the UC Davis Council of Deans and Vice Chancellors. The session was facilitated by staff from the Academic Engagement Network, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that promotes campus free expression. Collaborative events like these impact our entire campus, and we are exploring further initiatives to educate our community about antisemitism and how we can most effectively unite against it.

An ongoing battle

When any member of our community is under attack, intimidated, or left in fear or alarm, we must rally to support and act where we can. Sometimes words are not enough. But remaining silent is not an option either.


UC Davis has a website for reporting hate and bias, and we encourage our community to use it.

We know that UC Davis and the city of Davis aren’t immune from hateful actions that plague so much of our society. Nor are other campuses throughout the state. We know these antisemitic incidents are an attempt to terrorize members of our community, turning us against one another. Every fiber of my being is dedicated to making sure that does not happen.

We turn again to our Principles of Community, where we aspire to value and respect our differences. We recognize that as our community grows more diverse, it grows stronger.

Recent events, here and around the state and nation, continue to demonstrate that we have more work to do, and we will be diligent. We recognize that, short of eliminating hate speech altogether, it can feel like we are not doing enough. Although no amount of town halls or workshops can prevent unaffiliated bad actors from invading our campus, we remain open to meaningful suggestions that will unite us further.

To members of the Jewish community, please know that I stand with you.

Chancellor Gary S. May’s monthly column is published in The Davis Enterprise and Dateline UC Davis.

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