Fighting Antisemitism | The Detroit Jewish News

University of Detroit Mercy Dental School

Incident at University of Detroit Mercy leads to learning for those involved.

Olivia Berlin
Olivia Berlin

In my four years on the program staff of Hillel of Metro Detroit (HMD), I have seen and heard about an increase of antisemitic incidents on our six campuses. This is consistent with university communities across the country. Although antisemitism is a hard topic to approach, Hillel of Metro Detroit is fortunate to work with faculty and administration who are understanding, compassionate and listen to the needs of our campus communities. 

An example took place this past spring when an email with an article that mentioned the intifada was sent out by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry. While the email was intended to acknowledge Arab American Heritage Month, it missed the mark of inclusion when it clearly delegitimized other minority groups. 

The email was reported to HMD and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC/AJC) by a student who was upset and uncomfortable with the distribution of this article. The student felt like he couldn’t tackle this incident on his own and was nervous to speak up because many of his teachers were of Arab descent. HMD values the relationships we have with our students, and we were able to take action and advocate on his behalf. 

Working in partnership with the professionals at JCRC/AJC, we contacted Dr. Mert Aksu, dean of students at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry, and scheduled a meeting with the dental school administration. We are pleased to report that the meeting with Dr. Aksu and Dr. Juliette Daniels, associate dean of students, was overwhelmingly positive. The deans agreed to speak to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion about the repercussions of the email that was sent out and how to do better in the future. 

HMD is now helping to plan an anti-bias training led by the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) to support students and faculty. According to HMD Associate Director Brittany Begun, “We are thrilled to collaborate with the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry to educate the community with anti-bias training.”

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of the JCRC/AJC, attended the meeting. “It meant so much that there was respect for sensitivities of Jewish students. Sometimes these issues don’t come from malice but from insensitivity. In this instance, we didn’t have to persuade someone’s thinking, but we were able to educate and discuss together. 

“University of Detroit Mercy Dental is a not a challenging environment; it is a welcoming environ-ment,” Lopatin added. 

“It is our responsibility as Jews and people who love Israel to step up and provide education and use challenges as opportunities. After the meeting, we felt closer to the administration and school than we ever had before. It was an unfortunate incident that helped us come together with a new and meaningful understanding.”

Adar Rubin, JCRC/AJC’s Israel Associate, spoke to the group about the March to May uptick in Palestinian terrorism that claimed the lives of over 19 Israelis from many different demographics, including Arab-Israeli police officer Amir Khoury and two Ukrainians. 

“During those two months, fringe anti-Israel groups here in the US amplified the Palestinian calls to ‘globalize to intifada’, a violent call for the mass murder of Jews as seen in the First and Second from 1987-2005,” Rubin said. “The group was stunned by this revelation. This is why it is a critical responsibility for Jews to raise awareness and educate others about the history and traumatic impact that lethal phrases and rallying cries have on our community.”

Hillel of Metro Detroit not only enhances the Jewish experience on campus but also works to help educate the greater population about Jewish life. Incidents like these are not always based on hate, rather they happen because of a lack of education.

I am confident that our organizations working together will help create a more inclusive and tolerant environment for the students, faculty and staff at University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry. 

Olivia Berlin is the director of marketing and Jewish life coordinator for Hillel of Metro Detroit.


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