Vanderbilt U. Woos Jewish Students

The school says it's encouraging diversity; some wonder if Vanderbilt is promoting the idea of Jewish intellectual superiority.

BY: John Gerome

 

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Vanderbilt is not alone in trying to attract Jews. Richard Joel, president of Hillel, a Jewish campus organization, said the group has built 19 Jewish centers in eight years. Other schools with centers in the works or recently completed include Brown University, where Gee was president before coming to Vanderbilt, and Florida State.

Still, Vanderbilt's intense, high-level effort to recruit Jews, even if part of a broader diversity effort, is uncommon.

Vanderbilt was founded in 1873 through a $1 million gift from Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad and steamship industrialist. It started as a Methodist school but severed its church ties in 1914.

Despite its location in a city where only about 6,500 of 570,000 residents is Jewish, Vanderbilt once drew a substantial number of Southern Jews because other elite universities would not accept them, Davis said.

As recently as the 1960s, some top universities used quotas to hold down Jewish enrollment. During the 1970s, Jewish enrollment at Vanderbilt was 9 percent or 10 percent, but it slipped as Ivy League and other prestigious universities abandoned the quotas.

If Vanderbilt seems unabashed in its courting of Jews, Davis said, it is because it is playing catch-up.

Some Vanderbilt students said they do not mind the push for diversity. On campus, senior Ashley Hunt of Hanson, Ky., motioned toward the new Jewish life center and said: "I don't know if it will make a difference, but I think it's a bold statement."

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