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How to Find Inclusive Colleges for Jewish and Muslim Students

It’s vital for colleges to foster culture and create space for everyone. Here’s how to find welcoming, supportive campuses for Jewish and Muslim students.

With increased tensions on many campuses surrounding the Israel-Hamas war, choosing a college as a Jewish or Muslim student may feel like a heightened challenge. Finding a campus where you’ll feel welcome and supported involves a lot of research, and for each student, this research will look a little different. Some may be looking for specific attributes for their cultural or religious identity. Some might want a campus that offers kosher or halal food and a place to practice their faith, while others simply want to know they’ll be part of an engaged and open-minded community. No matter where you fall, everyone wants to feel safe and respected. As you keep the changing social landscape in mind, here’s what to think about as you explore colleges.

Consider your non-negotiables

What you consider non-negotiables will be highly individual and should be weighed against academic and financial support as well, experts say. You may simply want to join a Hillel International chapter or Muslim Student Association (MSA) to meet other students, or you may need a campus that accommodates your daily religious values and rules. For example, can you find Shabbat services and dinner? Does the campus provide prayer spaces for Muslim students, and how does it handle Ramadan?   

“Ask yourself: What are your non-negotiables versus preferences versus added bonus?” says Sherri Geller, Co-director of College Counseling at Gann Academy, a Jewish high school in Massachusetts. Knowing your federal and state rights for religious accommodations on campus will help your search, so arm yourself with that knowledge and ensure your school(s) of interest meet these standards. For example, Binghamton University offers an easily accessible religious accommodation and expression policy on its website.

Related: Cut Down Your College List With a College Search Rubric

Explore what a college has to offer

Colleges vary greatly regarding how much they offer in the way of support and opportunities for Jewish and Muslim students. Not every student will need the same things, but the following are important to look for and inquire about:

  • Does the campus prepare kosher or halal food? If so, how often: daily, several times a week, or less than that? How accessible is it? Is it offered in the dining hall or a different building? Does it cost extra?
  • How many clubs and organizations are offered? How active are they? These might include Hillel International, Chabad, Muslim Student Association, Islamic Club, and other groups aligned with Jewish or Muslim identities. Is there Jewish- or Muslim-specific Greek life? You should also ask about other clubs that welcome all students to see what options there are for other important aspects of your identity and interests as well.
  • Does the campus provide places to pray? Does it have a Muslim chaplain or rabbi in residence as well as space for different ideologies to worship? Are there scheduled religious gatherings you can attend regularly? If the campus doesn’t have these, is there easy access to religious spaces in the surrounding town or city? Do campus organizations have relationships with a nearby mosque or synagogue?
  • How well does the school accommodate Jewish or Muslim holidays and time off? Can you tell if the campus takes the initiative to support students, or will you need to advocate for yourself? Do they offer events to celebrate and help other students learn about these holidays?
  • What are the housing options? Does the campus provide single-sex or substance-free residence halls?
  • Does the course catalog include Jewish or Muslim studies programs? If there aren’t major programs, do they at least offer relevant classes, minors, or specializations in these subjects?

Related: How Can You Measure How Diverse a College Is?

Get a feel for the campus vibe

Beyond specific accommodations, you should also explore the level of engagement students have with each other and campus organizations. It’s not easy to tell how engaged students are from a website, nor is it easy to feel the inclusivity of a campus even if you take a college tour. However, “When colleges are putting forth an effort to support their students” by promoting and validating religious and cultural diversity through interfaith relationships, “those students will feel included,” says Salman Khan, Co-founder of Muslim Campus Life and Director of Hidayah Services, a private college counseling service for Muslim students. Here are some ways you can get a better feel for a campus:

Talk to current students, alumni, and staff

Talking to students and alumni will give you the best sense of a campus’s nature. “The student perspective is such a valuable one because there’s so much diversity among campuses,” Khan says. For example, some Muslim chaplains might work with students directly, while others may take a more administrative role behind the scenes. Understanding these small variations in campus life will give you a sense of how you might be supported as a student there.

Tour in person

While on campus, check in with any Jewish and Muslim clubs to see how active they are. “The students and staff can help you figure out answers to questions you didn’t even know you had,” Geller says. Take a walk through residence halls and pay attention to people walking around. Do you see students or faculty wearing Muslim head coverings or kippah (yarmulke)? Do any dorm rooms have a mezuzah posted outside the door?

Related: Top Tips to Help You Decide Which Colleges to Visit in Person

Read school publications and social media posts

A college’s newspaper or magazine can be an important lens in showing you what kinds of news topics the student reporters cover as well as the tone. Joining a campus MSA or Hillel Instagram or Facebook page can also tell you how active student groups are if you’re unable to visit campus in person. Look for recent posts and how often events are held.

Look for demonstrations of community building

Administrations often issue statements to students addressing specific incidents or global goings-on, and how a campus brings its student communities together during hard times is important. When an issue is especially charged, ask, “What is the campus doing to encourage appropriate and safe dialogue?” recommends Naomi Steinberg, Founder of Florida-based Apply Yourself Educational Consulting. An inclusive campus “builds the student community in an authentic way, whether they’re Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or something else, and they feel comfortable talking about that aspect of their identity and it’s respected,” Khan adds.

Check for incidents of discrimination

Unfortunately, discrimination and harassment happen everywhere. To get a sense of a college’s atmosphere, check with the campus police departments, student conduct offices, diversity offices, and Hillel or MSA chapters at your schools of interest. Also search for news articles online; Muslim Campus Life’s Islamophobia tracker and Hillel’s antisemitism incident tracker offer insight as well.

Helpful resources for Jewish and Muslim students

During this crucial time, it’s important to take advantage of valuable outside resources that can make your college search easier, including:

Related: Finding a Diverse College Community in 3 Easy Steps

Ultimately, all students want to feel welcome and free to express their identity and values. That doesn’t mean you won’t hit some bumps in the road or deal with conflict. “Whatever the challenge is…[arming students] with the confidence and ability to self-advocate will be important,” says Steinberg. The state of the world right now is very scary for students who face discrimination, but there are plenty of colleges out there that want to support and protect you throughout your education.

Start searching for and learning about supportive schools using our College Search tool. You can even connect directly with any school that has a green “Yes, connect me!” button!

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