Students enrolled through a new mid-year transfer program include those experiencing antisemitism at previous institutions

and | Contributing and Staff Writers

(Elle Su | Student Life) 

Twelve freshmen and sophomore students enrolled at Washington University as mid-year transfer students this semester, the first time in recent history that students were accepted in between semesters. Several of these students are Jewish and said they came to the University after feeling unsafe on their previous campuses due to antisemitism.

Executive Director of Undergraduate Admissions Grace James said that despite some students’ personal reasons for coming to WashU, the pilot transfer admissions process for spring 2024 was not explicitly connected to the Israel-Hamas war.

“The pilot program was open to any student who was interested in transferring to Arts & Sciences, and the circumstances of the students who applied were as individual as each person,” James said. “We had some interest from the community in exploring this pathway again, so we decided to reopen the option this year.”

The transfer option was only available for students interested in enrolling in the school of Arts & Sciences because the coursework is more flexible with fewer year-long sequences. 

The pilot program was publicized through a newsletter email to the WashU community from the Student Transitions and Family Programs office, a mass email to school counselors, and communication on the Common App website. Additionally, a notice was posted on the Undergraduate Admissions website. 

The University’s announcement was reposted on College Confidential, a site that offers prospective college students and parents college help, in a discussion post titled “Jewish Students Looking to Transfer This Spring — WashU Pilot Program.”  

“WashU is about 25% Jewish and has been outstanding to their community during these difficult times. They have both a Chabad and Hillel and a Chancellor who truly cares about all students,” the post reads. “If your student is looking for an elite school with a supportive Jewish community, I would highly consider this option as an opportunity.”

A first-year student who transferred from Occidental College, who wishes to remain anonymous for personal reasons, said that of the ten transfer students who were present at orientation, he found out that six of them were also Jewish. 

“I think some of us faced antisemitism more than others, but we all faced it at least a little,” the first-year student, who is also Jewish, said.

While some students transferred due to personal identity, other students had different reasons. 

First-year Isa Sanchez, who attended St. Louis University last semester, knew within the first few weeks that she no longer wanted to be there. 

“At SLU I didn’t feel welcomed or like I belonged there,” Sanchez said. “I wanted to go to a school where students had a passion, where they loved what they did…where they cared about their future.”

Sophomore transfer Lauren Eckstein said that she transferred from Pomona College because she felt unsafe on campus due to her Jewish identity and views on the Israel-Hamas conflict. Eckstein said that she became aware of the University’s new program because her mother saw a post on the “Mothers Against College Antisemitism” (MACA) Facebook page. 

“I felt like an outcast for my political views and Judaism, and I felt uncomfortable. Not as much physically unsafe, but very much mentally,” Eckstein said.

The first-year who was previously mentioned also learned about the transfer program through the MACA Facebook page. He said that, although he transferred for a variety of personal factors, one aspect of his decision came as a result of feeling unsafe as a Jewish student. 

The first-year student said that he attended a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter meeting at Occidental on Oct. 8 out of curiosity but felt uncomfortable after it began with a prayer that he said called for the elimination of the Jewish people. 

“[The leader of the prayer] was calling for peace, a swift end to the war, and then the last line was something like ‘we pray for Allah’s help in crushing our enemies and making sure they can never rise up again.’ And then after that they started the ‘from the river to the sea’ chant,” the first-year student said. 

He also said that he felt like the school was taking sides after a statement issued by Occidental’s administration. 

“I used to wear a Jewish star on my neck and would wear a kippah once in a while on campus,” the first-year student said. “I was told to take it off by the administration because they were worried for my safety.”

Some students expressed that if they could change anything about the transfer program it would be to make the process feel less rushed, as they only had a few weeks to apply. Transfer applications became available Nov. 15 and closed Dec. 11.  

The Student Transitions and Family Programs office hosted an orientation for the spring transfer students, similar to the Bear Beginnings programming that is held for first-years prior to the start of their first fall semester. During orientation, transfer students met with University administrators, visited the Arch, played with Washington University Police Department therapy dogs Brookie and Bear, and participated in other activities. 

First-year transfer Justin Ockun, who attended Syracuse last semester, emphasized that the University’s pilot program felt like a gift to him and said that at WashU he already feels appreciated by his community. 

“Everyone [at WashU] has shown they are insistent upon going the extra mile and helping students here,” Ockun said. “Even when they don’t have to.”

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