Panel is Assembled to Explore Jewish Life on Campus

By Purnell T. Cropper | April 17, 2012

By Erica Lamberg

A panel has formed which includes President Carl (Tobey) Oxholm III, deans, professors, staff and students to explore how to promote and expand Jewish life on campus. The meetings, which have been held on campus at Grey Towers Castle and at President Oxholm’s home, begin with an open discussion and continue with ideas about how to cultivate, grow,  introduce and expand Jewish experiences on campus.  A fund has been established by President Oxholm to facilitate the endeavor and has been earmarked for this purpose through 2013.

One example of Jewish life is Arcadia’s vibrant presence of Hillel which includes about two dozen students who perform charity projects, plan events in conjunction with Jewish holidays, and organize events to promote Jewish expression and socialization.

“President Oxholm is one of the major proponents of this effort to enhance Jewish activities,” said Jan Tecklin, Professor of Physical Therapy, who is part of the panel.

Tecklin said during his 30 year tenure at Arcadia, Jewish life on campus has been sparse. “There have been a very small number of Jewish students throughout the Arcadia population but particularly at the undergraduate level,” Tecklin said. “This has not always been the case but the last two decades have seen a very low number of Jewish undergrads according to data that was accumulated through 2009. I believe that the major goal of the committee is to increase the Jewish presence on campus, particularly but not exclusively at the undergraduate level. In addition another goal, in my opinion, is to enhance the opportunities for both Jewish life and Jewish-related studies and courses on campus.”

He goes on to say that Philadelphia has a high percentage of Jews like Baltimore, Boston, Hartford and New York. He said recruiting locally is important for students who may want “an away” experience but close to home. “They gain the independence and experience of living away but can come home for holidays, weekends, etc. if they want,” Tecklin added.

Josh Stern, Dean of Students, is also a strong proponent for Jewish enhancement on campus, and as a member of the panel adds validity due to  his connection to undergraduate student life.

“I appreciate the opportunity to get to know Jewish staff, faculty and colleagues and work with energetic students who want to culturally, academically and religiously strengthen their connections to Judaism,” he said. He also said an important goal is to boost Jewish enrollment. “In the 1970s, Beaver College used to boast a Jewish student population of close to 30 percent,” he said. “I’d like us to determine why the number of Jews on campus has diminished so significantly to approximately five percent over the past 40 years. We are located in a geographic area that is densely populated with Jews, yet Arcadia’s population does not reflect this.”

Stern said there are a few sub-committees stemming from the panel who are working on topics including special events and Jewish a speakers’ series. “Our sub-committee would like to empower our students to strengthen and grow the Hillel organization and re-establishArcadiaas a destination for Jewish students,” Stern explained. “There are a couple of subcommittees: one focuses on establishing Jewish-themed courses and the other on the creation of a Jewish speaker series. These two subcommittees were born from conversations we had with Jewish students on campus.”

Moving forward, Stern hopes that the meetings will become more attended and he said interested faculty, staff and students are invited to join conversations about how to support, cultivate, and grow Jewish life on campus.