Jewish identity development in college
Atkinson, Nancy Ruth Levine
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This study explored identity development in Jewish college students by investigating experiences both on and off campus during the college years. Issues of diversity are important, as colleges seek to make higher education places where students are free to pursue education without barriers and with respect and support towards all. While much research is being conducted as to racial and ethnic diversity on campus, there has been very little research about Jewish students. While Jewish students are neither underrepresented nor underprepared for college, as part of the diversity landscape, they are differentiated and an important part of the whole. The Anti Defamation League (ADL) has noted an increase of anti-Semitic activity in the last few years, and a relatively low but constant level of anti-Semitic attitudes on the part of both students and faculty. How this affects students has not been studied. In addition to issues of diversity on campus, the Jewish community is changing in its affiliation towards religion and organization. How students are both affected by this and tend to influence this trend was part of the important contextual background. This study included two interviews each with 19 junior level Jewish students (9 men and 10 women), solicited both off campus and by flyers and ads in the student newspaper. The audio-taped interviews included questions about background, college experiences, and plans for the future. In addition, student service administrators were interviewed. Data was analyzed and organized from the transcriptions, and the findings were written up to add to the body of research both on campus diversity and on dynamics within the Jewish community. A model of boundaried identity was developed from the data, indicating that Jewish students express a wide variety of practices, beliefs within the boundary. The social space of the boundary was affected both by the internal forces of the Jewish students, largely consisting of pride and a sense of family heritage. External forces on the boundary were both positive and negative; the positive forces, as exhibited by campus accommodation and acknowledgment of cultural differences, tended to expand the social space. Additionally, negative external forces were discovered, in the form of pervasive negative stereotypes and the word "JAP" which tended to shrink the social space of the boundaried identity.