Review of the experiences of Jewish students and staff published

  • Date

    Thu 11 Jul 19

Solidarity event

The University of Essex is proud of its history as a global university. We offer a transformational education to students from over 140 countries. This mix of cultures, histories, perspectives and preferences is core to our identity. The University of Essex does not and will not tolerate antisemitic behaviour in any form and will act whenever it becomes aware of such behaviour.

Our aim is for the University to be a place where diversity is respected and valued, and where we all know that unacceptable behaviour is challenged in the appropriate way. The University has adopted and published its support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definitions of antisemitism, and launched a Review of the Experiences of Jewish Students and Staff to address incidents of antisemitism in February 2019.

A total of 33 recommendations across 12 areas have been made in the Review led by the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Jules Pretty following extensive consultations, interviews and testimony.

Feedback from the Independent External Group

The University appointed an Independent External Group to advise on the process and outcomes, and approve the report. The Group comprised Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger DBE, Chief Executive at the Jewish Leadership Council Simon Johnson, Deputy Chief Executive at the Community Security Trust Mark Gardner and Rt Hon Baroness Jan Royall, Principal, Somerville College Oxford.

The Group’s members said they hoped the Review would provide guidance for dealing with not just antisemitism, but any form of discrimination. They said the in-depth review of the experiences of Jewish students and staff “encapsulates best practice in addressing antisemtism”.

The group said the University had taken swift action to deal with concerns and undertake the review and added: “We consider that this report represents a model of the response that an institution such as a university should make to allegations of, or concerns about, antisemitism or any other form of discrimination. We urge other universities to learn from the spirit, actions and content of this investigation, whether in regard to Jewish concerns or those of any other group.

“The approach taken by the University of Essex encapsulates best practice in addressing antisemitism and indeed any other form of discrimination. The recommendations follow through by advising on, or insisting on, actions to be taken.”

Why we launched Review

The Review was launched after concerns were raised regarding antisemitism at the University due to the number of votes registered against the establishment of a new Jewish Society at the University and social media postings by a member of academic staff.

The University and Students’ Union took immediate action to ensure the Jewish Society was established and the University immediately suspended the member of staff – with an independent investigation later leading to his dismissal. An event was also held to show support for the Jewish community at Essex attended by around 500 staff and students, The University then committed to the Review to ensure the University’s response lived up to its high expectation on promoting equality and diversity..

Taking action on recommendations

The Review’s 33 recommendations cover creating a tolerant and civil environment, faith provision and support, the student Jewish Society, staff training, bridge-building through the educational offer, building on the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, conduct and complaints, student recruitment and outreach, staff recruitment, communications and events (including support for Holocaust Memorial Week), food services and social media guidance.

Many recommendations are already in place with others being implemented over the summer.

Recommendations now being implemented include:

  • Improved links with the regional University Jewish Chaplaincy, the regular presence of Jewish chaplains on campus and allocated space for celebrating Shabbat.
  • Mandatory training on dealing with antisemitism and better processes for tackling complaints of antisemitism.
  • The establishment of a Faith Centre to develop and embed the role of the existing Multi Faith Chaplaincy Centre. This will include the appointment of a Faith Centre Manager to provide continuous support and guidance to chaplains and faith representatives plus a link to student societies.
  • The Faith Centre Manager and Chaplaincy Committee will also develop a clear programme of activities to increase interfaith understanding amongst the student body, working with the Students’ Union.

Encouraging a culture of respect for all faiths

Our Chancellor, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, said: "The University of Essex needed to respond decisively and effectively and that is precisely what the Vice-Chancellor and senior leadership team have done, strongly supported by staff and students.

"The report shows a real understanding of what has upset students and detracted from their Essex experience.

"The University has always taken pride in being multiracial, internationalist and a champion of equality. It is now redoubling its efforts to promote those values by following-up its immediate response with further steps to encourage a culture of respect for all faiths.”

"We want to celebrate diversity and inclusivity in all its forms" 

In a joint statement Chair of Council Judith Judd,. Chair of Council Designate Jane Hamilton and Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster said: "The University of Essex is a cosmopolitan, international university and we want to celebrate diversity and inclusivity in all its forms.

"We have recognised that we faced a problem of antisemitism and we want to thank the independent external group for its support and guidance in helping us face up to this. Our Council and Senate have unanimously endorsed this report and we will be implementing all 33 recommendations.

"There has been a great deal of institutional learning about what else we can and should do, to be inclusive and to ensure that the lived experiences of all our students and staff match the values of our University.

"We will continue to challenge ourselves. Our Council has therefore agreed additional work should immediately be undertaken to review all areas where there could be discrimination. We want to ensure that we celebrate the diversity of all members of the University of Essex."