In the past few weeks, Jewish students at Hunter College have had to deal with a sign that compares Jewish victims of the Holocaust to Nazis, while those at Columbia protesting the school’s controversial Middle Eastern studies department have been labeled McCarthyites, and Carnegie-Mellon University hosted – and had its history department pay for – an openly anti-Semitic speech by the openly anti-Semitic Malik Shabazz.
In the same period, Jewish students at George Washington University and Duke University were discussing kosher dining options, the Hillel’s Russian Club at Hunter was sending students to the Broadway show Rent, and Yeshiva University was all abuzz with its annual Seforim Sale.
Items like these – easily ranging between the scandalously prejudicial to fun times with friends – are everyday occurrences in the lives of today’s Jewish collegiates. And every day is how they and others should get to know about them.
That’s where CampusJ, the new publication launched less than a month ago, comes in. CampusJ – located at www.CampusJ.com – aims to provide comprehensive coverage of Jewish news on campus, as well as training and opportunities to a new generation of Jewish journalists.
Ours is a pretty significant experiment on several levels, but perhaps mostly in that it utilizes blogs and a group of citizen journalists to cover a national beat. No similar project has yet been tried.
But why Jewish campus news?
Well, for the entirety of The Jewish Press’s readership, the most pressing reason is that major concerns of Jewish life are increasingly influenced by what goes on at college campuses. Whether it’s academia’s approach to teaching Israel, or anti-Semitism faced by students, events and issues that resonate with the entire Jewish community often are located there – and there’s no better place to get that information than from the students themselves. More so, the future of American Jewish life is to be found there: if the Harvard Hillel makes a decision about how its campus community will practice the rituals of Shabbos dining, that will have a very real influence on the larger Jewish community over time.
Of course, we’re not here entirely or even mostly for every single Jewish Press reader. Our most important audience is the students themselves. Whether it’s in attending an event on campus, engaging in a discussion about an issue affecting the Jewish community, or responding to an affront, what students most need is good information and a place to share their views. CampusJ gives them that.
Many might say that CampusJ is a pie-in-the-sky idea. After all, “Jewish content” and “youth” very rarely find themselves in the same demographic. The average reader of Jewish newspapers is roughly 65 years old, a reality often reflected in the news pages of those publications. Even though this figure doesn’t reflect the readership of The Jewish Press, there’s obviously still a case to be made that a targeted publication will do a better job of delivering relevant news.
Most Jewish content has failed to reach younger readers simply because it hasn’t tried: story after story about what Jewish senior citizens are doing is about as relevant to college students as parties on campus are to nursing home residents. At CampusJ, we’re succeeding because we actually care about what’s going on in Jewish college students’ lives and want to share what they have to say.
This is why we’ve taken the road of avoiding partnerships and turning down funds from the typical Jewish organizations that reach out to Jewish youth. We’re not planning to do outreach, or convince readers of some specific political approach or religious ideology. We don’t care what students do, we just want to share what they do with others. We’re a venue for independent student voices, with no agenda other than having a good discussion about what’s going on.