Venturing into the big world

Haley Finkelstein

With college applications looming and the unavoidable anxiety to press “send” ending, I can’t help but feel nervous.

While being Jewish has never posed a problem for me in the Harvard-Westlake community, anti-semitism is a prevalent issue not only in America as a whole but also in our universities. Last week, within hours of Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in Judaism, offensive graffiti — swastikas — were spotted outside a historically Jewish fraternity house at Emory University in Atlanta.

This really disturbs me. Although I’m extremely excited to meet new people with different religious beliefs and cultures, I feel trepidation because I know I would be a religious minority at many of the schools I’m applying to. Throughout my entire high-school career, students with my religion have actually been quite prominent. I’m not at all nervous to hear the opinions and further understand the views of people who don’t share my own, but I do get nervous when I hear news like this.

What if kids at my college associate me with typical Jewish stereotypes? What if I don’t get invited back to a sorority during rush? These are questions that come to my mind when I hear about this sad, yet common religious prejudice.

I expect wherever I go to college to feel like home. I highly doubt the brothers of this fraternity along with other Jewish students at Emory feel at home when they are victims of these acts of intolerance. Their fraternity is supposed to be their home away from home, their sense of family, and provides a feeling of brotherhood. Don’t get me wrong; my intent in writing this column is not to target Emory for an issue that truly extends far outside just their Greek row.

I want to have the “classic” college experience. Translation: Greek life is important to me. If I don’t rush a sorority, how will I get a good Instagram? Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but my point still stands. I want to be in a safe, respectful environment where religious prejudice, racism and sexism are not issues. I know that in reality it is impossible to completely get rid of prejudice, but a diverse and accepting community is a necessity for me in my college experience.

I’m encouraged by the response of Emory University and its students who decided to wear blue one day in support of Emory’s Jewish community and the rights of all people to live freely and safely. The incident motivates me to consider inclusivity and diversity huge factors while I decide where I spend the next four years of my life.

It frightens me that I might be leaving the Harvard-Westlake bubble for places that are less accepting than where I’ve grown up. Though being a Jew is a defining aspect of my character, I never thought it could limit me in any way. It’s not like my religious beliefs have come into play when trying out for a sports team or even joining a club in high school. It is upsetting that the real world can be so scary and judgmental.

As much as I fear growing up and being exposed to discrimination, I cannot be sheltered forever. What I can control is my attempt to find a university that offers a diverse, inclusive and accepting community — a community where students not only express their own beliefs but are also open to the beliefs of others.