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We need to address antisemitism at Western

Jewish students often feel unsafe on campus due to pervasive incidents of bias

Since 2015, nonprofit AMCHA has documented 29 antisemitic acts at Western, based on social media posts. This photo shows Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., on March 8, 2023. // Photo by Joshua Kornfeld

Additional reporting by Emma Burrell.

Content Warning: This article discusses antisemitism and specific incidents of bias against Jewish students. 

Chava Spokoiny, a second-year student at Western, was in the VU on Jan. 18 with friends, working on a Holocaust remembrance project, when a man approached them and made antisemitic statements, according to University Police reports.

“He was like, ‘You people lie about your history, you people lie about who you are. You're liars, you're violent people. You're vile, you lie to everybody about your history,’” Spokoiny said. 

Spokoiny said she feels there isn’t enough response around harassment that Jewish students experience on campus. 

Spokoiny’s experiences reflect what other students have also told The Front. Yet, Western has not added antisemitism to university policies or provided comprehensive data, two recommendations of a 2017 antisemitism task force report. 

This is what The Front found after reviewing publicly available reports.  

The U.S. Department of State defines antisemitism as "a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” 

AMCHA, a California-based nonprofit that tracks antisemitism at colleges, used social media posts to document 29 acts at Western since 2015. 

Recent antisemitic acts at Western 

Click here to view a timeline summarizing incidents in the last 10 years. 

On Oct. 19, the free speech whiteboard in the VU was covered with an antisemitic drawing, according to a police report. Spokoiny reported this incident to the Title IX office. 

“I wrote an email to the Title IX office and demanded a statement because it could foster solidarity that we were not capable of doing on our own,” Spokoiny said.

Litav Langley, the assistant vice president for Access, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Western, sent an email on Oct. 26 saying there have been “multiple reports of written and verbal bias in recent weeks.”

“These hateful actions are unacceptable and have no place at Western. If you are writing such messages or engaging in this vandalism, stop,” Langley wrote in the email. “Your behavior is antithetical to our core values, including respect for the dignity of all people in and beyond our community.” 

In an incident on Nov. 30, 2021, Yulissa Vorotnikov was walking near Haggard Hall when a man began to verbally harass and chase after her while Nazi-saluting her. Vorotnikov said she passed by several people standing at the Haggard Hall bus stop while she fled the man chasing her, but no one stepped in to help her.

“I was kind of jogging at this point because he just keeps Nazis-saluting me with the biggest smile on his face, hysterically laughing and he kind of picked up the speed too,” Vorotnikov said. “And so now he's following me and so then I start running, and I'm yelling very loudly, ‘Please help.’”

Vorotnikov said someone at the Wilson library helped her inside before calling the police. This event was the only hate crime in the 2021 annual fire safety report. She felt the response from the university administration wasn’t enough. 

“There was no email, no report, it was very strange,” Vorotnikov said.

The Front covered antisemitism last October in an opinion piece written by two Hillel board members, which discussed Jewish students’ experiences with antisemitism on campus. 

07C267D5-9124-42E2-ACD4-8FDAB2157FC1_1_201_a.jpeg

In 2021, a student was Nazi saluted and chased from the Haggard Hall bus stop (pictured) at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. She was able to seek assistance in the library where a staff member called 911. // Photo by Joshua Kornfeld 

Trends of antisemitism 

What students are reporting at Western seems to be reflected in the broader U.S. 

A total of 85% of Americans believe at least one antisemitic trope as of 2023, according to a report from the American Defamation League.

Jewish On Campus is an international initiative that started in 2020 as an Instagram campaign. Their goal is to amplify Jewish voices, including those of college students. 

According to their most recent annual report in 2021, JOC received 544 submissions from 11 countries, 41 U.S. states and 228 universities globally.

The tracking of antisemitism varies due to different definitions among different agencies.  

Western’s response to antisemitism on campus

Western has a Bias Response Team that was established in March 2020. 

In the 2020-21 school year, the BRT reported 47 bias incidents, followed by 46 bias incidents during the 2021-22 school year. However, the BRT and Annual Fire Safety Reports do not include specific data regarding reports of antisemitism. 

The team defines bias as “language or action that demonstrates bias against an individual or group of people based on actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, disability, sexual orientation, age or veteran status.”

The BRT serves an educational role and does not have the authority of discipline or sanctions, according to the team's website.   

After multiple attempts at email and phone correspondence, the BRT declined to comment on this story. 

Former University President Bruce Shepard formed a task force in 2016 to investigate Western’s response to antisemitism. That same year, Western had four separate antisemitic incidents according to the report. The task force concluded its work in 2017 under current president Sabah Randhawa. The task force was disbanded after the conclusion of the report.  

Antisemitism on Campus Map-01.png

A map showing reported instances of antisemitism on Western Washington University’s campus in Bellingham, Wash., over the last 10 years. The information depicted is based on public records, requests and reporting done by Joshua Kornfeld and Emma Burrell. // Map by Madisun Tobisch

Campus resources

Daniel Records-Galbraith is the director of the Civil Rights Title IX Compliance office. The office investigates Titles V, VI and IX pertaining to civil rights and discrimination.  

“We are here to be a resource and be helpful to people, not just about formal investigations,” Records-Galbraith said. “Students don’t need to file a formal complaint to get resources.” 

Office of Equity  

University President Randhawa was unavailable for an interview and sent The Front to the Office of Equity Director Jacqueline Hughes, who wrote in an email that the university does not have a definition of antisemitism. 

“Western continues to address cultural concerns from a broad and comprehensive perspective,” she said. 

Elected representatives respond  

Sharon Shewmake is an associate professor at Western and a senator representing Washington’s 42nd Legislative District. 

Shewmake, D-Bellingham, said she would support legislation pertaining to a stronger definition of antisemitism. 

“Everyone deserves to feel safe in our community,” Shewmake said. 

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell gave the following statement in an email regarding antisemitism. 

“The pattern of antisemitic incidents reported at Western Washington University is deeply troubling. Jewish people have a long, vibrant history in our state, and in America — but that history has also been marred by antisemitism and hurtful stereotypes,” the Democrat said. “Hate crimes have no place on American campuses, and no student should ever have to deal with an unsafe or discriminatory learning environment. The events at Western illustrate how far we have to go to live up to our values as Americans.” 

What changes students want 

From the confrontation between Spokoiny and the man at the Viking Union on Jan. 18 to Jan. 27, police have responded to six calls about him targeting Jewish students. On Jan. 27, the man was formally “trespassed off campus,” according to a police report obtained by The Front through a public records request.

UPD has not positively identified the man due to “not wanting to escalate the situation by demanding identification due to the possibility of him not having any,” according to  the same report.

“Police officers in Washington state cannot compel you to give your name or any identifying information unless you are under arrest,” said University Police Officer Todd Osborn.

This means the next time UPD has contact with the man, he will face arrest, Osborn said. 

Spokoiny said that the biggest step Western could take would be to acknowledge these events. She said a big part of the problem is that many students are unaware that antisemitism is an issue on campus. 

After the whiteboard incident, Spokoiny said she went to the Ethnic Student Center for help.

“When I went in to report it to the ESC they were like, 'I didn't know people don't like you guys. What is this all about?’” she said.

Spokoiny said that she wants Western to take more accountability when it comes to antisemitism on campus. 

“Acknowledging and being willing to work with communities that this happens to could really do a lot,” Spokoiny said. “When you acknowledge these incidents and what communities go through, it says that you hear them, you see their pain and that you're willing to do something to help them.” 

Despite there being two separate police reports of antisemitic incidents on campus since the fall of 2022, Western administration has not sent out any official statements. Spokoiny said the Bias Response Team did not try to work with her after she submitted a report about the VU incident. 

“Once it went to the Bias Response Team, I got one email where it was like, ‘Let us know if we can do anything for you.’ It was just pretty much crickets,” she said. 

Spokoiny said she has not received any resources or support from the BRT several months after she reported the incident. 

Elisha Arafel is a fifth-year student at Western and co-representative for Jewish On Campus with Spokoiny. Arafel said they know of many students who are anxious or uncomfortable disclosing their identity as a Jewish person because they feel unsafe on campus. 

Vorotnikov said that based on the response she received from Western after experiencing a  hate crime directed at her, she does not feel supported by the school. 

“The school portrays themselves as being very helpful,” Vorotnikov said. “They act like they're so supportive, but they never are really. It's all for show.”

Reporting resources 

Students can report bias incidents to CRTC at 360-650-3307 and ADL. Or, contact UPD by calling 911 for emergencies or 360-650-3555 for non-emergencies. The Counseling and Wellness Center can also be reached at 360-650-3164.


Joshua Kornfeld

Joshua Kornfeld (he/him) is a city reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a junior majoring in journalism who enjoys photography, live music and exploring new coffee shops.
You can reach him at joshuakornfeld.thefront@gmail.com


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