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The purpose of this study was to examine appreciative attitudes toward Jews – a historically marginalized and targeted worldview identity group in the context of American higher education – among non-Jewish undergraduates. Drawing from a sample of 13,489 students across 52 institutions and using a multilevel modeling approach, we found that appreciative attitudes toward Jews varied by students’ perceptions of structural, psychological and behavioral climate dimensions related to worldview and by students’ identification patterns, including worldview. Of specific interest to Jewish educators, the presence of a Jewish organization on campus was associated with greater appreciative student attitudes toward Jews after controlling for demographic and other institutional covariates.

On November 12, 2016, several Jewish undergraduates returned to their residence hall at The New School in New York City to find large swastikas drawn on their doors. A student who was the target of this attack broke down in tears and described the incident as “heartbreaking.” Another was left asking: “Do I have to fear that someone is watching me?” (Keith & Schapiro, 2016, para. 3). This incident is not uncommon, as hateful expressions toward Jewish students have recently and disturbingly been increasing on college campuses across the United States (see Blumberg, 2016; Gladstone, 2016; Kosmin & Keysar, 2015). Such expressions have included other acts of vandalism on Jewish students’ residences and spaces (e.g., chapters of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternal organization) and prejudice against Jewish students seeking appointment to student governments (Kosmin & Keysar, 2015; Nagourney, 2015); they have also involved many undocumented examples of subtle and implicit actions (e.g., jokes) resulting from unconscious biases on the part of others in the college community (see Kosmin & Keysar, 2015; Weinberg, 2012; Yosso, Smith, Ceja, & Solórzano, 2009).

Important to note is that these incidents exist in a national context replete with examples of flagrant and hostile anti-Semitic expressions. These include frequent bomb threats at Jewish community centers (Biryukov, 2017), growing concerns about the political influence of neo-Nazi and so-called “alt right” figures (see D. N. Cohen, 2017), and the issuing of a statement—by the White House in remembrance of the Holocaust—which did not explicitly acknowledge the systematic murder of over 6 million Jewish people. Given this climate, it has become vitally important to understand how individuals might come to appreciate Jews as valued members of society in the United States. [End Page 71]

One context that has been empirically demonstrated to foster the emergence of individuals’ appreciative attitudes toward those of differing worldviews has been the college campus (see Mayhew, Rockenbach, Bowman, Seifert, & Wolniak, 2016). As authors of recent scholarship in this area have consistently argued, college experiences can positively influence students toward interfaith pluralism, an orientation which may serve to not only reduce hostile actions aimed at any one religious group, but also prepare citizens who are personally invested in creating a democratic society that proactively supports religious freedom for all (e.g., Rockenbach, Mayhew, Morin, Crandall, & Selznick, 2015). Recent evidence has also suggested that certain collegiate experiences might help students develop appreciative attitudes towards other worldview identification groups, namely and listed alphabetically: atheists (Bowman, Rockenbach, Mayhew, Riggers-Piehl, & Hudson, 2017), evangelical Christians (Mayhew, Rockenbach, Bowman, Lo, Starcke, Rigger-Piehl, and Crandall, 2017), Latter-Day Saints (Rockenbach, Mayhew, Bowman, Crandall, & Riggers-Piehl, in press), and Muslims (Rockenbach, Mayhew, Bowman, Morin, & Riggers-Piehl, 2017). Common to these studies is the idea that college may serve as an intervention, a place of suspended judgment where students can interact with diverse others, wrestle with the discomfort often engendered by these interactions, and learn as a result.

The purpose of this study was to specifically examine how non-Jewish students on US college campuses perceive Judaism and its adherents, Jews. We asked: What collegiate conditions, dimensions of climate for expressing one’s worldview (i.e., guiding philosophy), and educational practices are associated with holding appreciative attitudes toward Judaism and Jews among non-Jewish students? The rationale for this question is located in the increasing reports of anti-Semitic action in the United States both on and off campus. We believe, now more than ever, that failing to acknowledge appreciative attitudes toward Jews denies the realities of distinctively anti-Jewish expressions. We examined a robust sample of undergraduate students across 52 campuses. Our hope is that this study will help educators design inclusive learning environments specifically engineered to help non-Jewish students greater appreciate Judaism and Jews.


While the past decade has reflected a significant turn in scholarly attention to the religious and spiritual dimension of students’ lives (Astin et al., 2005; Bryant, 2008; Mayhew et al., 2016) as well as the relationships between religious/spiritual development and other higher education outcomes (Astin, Astin, & Lindholm, 2011; Kuh & Gonyea, 2006; Stoppa & Lefkowitz, 2010), few researchers to date have specifically explored the attitudes of non-Jewish students toward Judaism and Jews. Due to the dearth of studies that have examined outcomes related to appreciative attitudes toward Jews, and in support of the rationale for our research (see also Sax, 2002), we reviewed empirical work that investigated campus climates for Jews, including how they are perceived by non-Jewish peers and other institutional actors.

The literature in this area frequently describes how individuals use the term Jewish to reflect both religious and ethnic identity patterns. Though a detailed overview of this conversation is beyond the scope of this article, numerous authors have explored this topic in relationship to the general Jewish population (e.g., Hartman & Sheshkin, 2012) and college students specifically (Atkinson, 2006; Blumenfeld & Klein, 2009; Kosmin & Keysar, 2015). [End Page 72]

Campus Climate for Jewish Students

Historically, Jewish students have been perceived as religious and cultural outsiders in US higher education. Such bias has not only been recorded within classroom contexts (see Ham, 1922; Horowitz, 1987) but has also manifest in policies such as imposing Jewish admissions quotas and actively discouraging applications from otherwise qualified Jewish students (Horowitz, 1987; Kolko, 2003; Weschler, 1977).

With regard to current campus climate, the empirical findings appear somewhat mixed. When considered as a collective whole, Jews and other students from worldview-minority traditions perceived the campus climate for worldview diversity more positively than did their worldview-majority peers (e.g., Protestants, Catholics; Mayhew, Bowman, & Rockenbach, 2014); however, Jewish students have repeatedly reported experiences of anti-Semitism on their campuses (Kosmin & Keysar, 2015; Weinberg, 2012). Weinberg (2012) noted that over 40% of Jewish students perceived anti-Semitism on their campus compared to 11% of their non-Jewish peers. In fact, when examined by worldview, Jewish students were twice as likely to perceive anti-Semitism as the next largest group (atheist/agnostic) and almost four times more likely than their Catholic peers, among whom only 11% noted anti-Semitism occurring on campus.

Notably, Jewish students reported that much of the anti-Jewish messaging occurred in the classroom (Weinberg, 2012). Corroborating these findings, Kosmin and Keysar (2015) found that 54% of a sample of 1,157 self-identified Jewish students across a diverse sample of 55 campuses reported having experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism over the past academic year and 29% of these students reported having been subjected to anti-Semitism from a peer. Troublingly, though beyond the current scope of empirical literature, recent reporting has suggested that climates for Jews may be worsening as evidenced, for example, by nationwide reports of anti-Semitic graffiti being found on college campuses (Blumberg, 2016).

Turning to practice, Blumenfeld and Klein (2009) suggested strategies for working with Jewish undergraduates to create supportive and welcoming spaces on campus for worldview expression and identity development. Included in these recommendations was careful attention to the formal and informal opportunities available to Jews within the campus climate (e.g., engagement in Jewish organizations), as well as conducting assessments of Jewish student needs and experiences. Due to the availability of new data, we were able to build upon this scholarship and conduct an assessment of the campus climate for Jews, not by analyzing the responses of Jews themselves, but instead by understanding the appreciative attitudes that students of other worldviews hold toward Jews and Judaism in general.

Theoretical Framework

Considering a history of Jews being viewed as outsiders in US higher education (Horowitz, 1987; Oren, 1985) and feelings of marginalization by Jews on college campuses today (Kosmin & Keysar, 2015; Weinberg, 2012), examining how non-Jewish students come to hold appreciative attitudes toward Jews is as timely as it is complicated. What are appreciative attitudes and what can educators do to help non-Jewish students better appreciate Jews? How can this task be effectively accomplished in the face of reported anti-Semitic sentiments expressed by peers, faculty, and institutional leaders (Kosmin & Keysar, 2015)?

As an outcome for consideration, appreciative attitudes can be defined as related to “appreciative knowledge of diverse traditions that promote common action” (Patel & Meyer, 2011 [End Page 73] , p. 5). Theoretical grounding for this idea and its subsequent use in exploring the relationship between collegiate experiences and this outcome emerge from Eck (2006), who offered: “Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place . . . the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence” (What is Pluralism section, para. 3). Eck went on to propose that pluralism consists of four basic tenets: actively engaging diversity, relating to others with a sense of goodwill that extends beyond mere toleration, securing commitments in the midst of diverse alternatives, and recognizing and appreciating worldview differences and commonalities.

In this framing, holding appreciative attitudes can reflect the movement—which Eck posits can come about through educational experiences—from content knowledge and abstract notions of tolerance toward productive engagement across worldview difference and ultimately attitudinal change. Furthermore, espousing appreciative attitudes is integral to engaging students in becoming proponents for the free exercise of religion in a democracy, as such attitudes reflect both an understanding of the positive social contributions of the religion itself (e.g., Judaism) and the inherent dignity of those who espouse its religious beliefs and practice its traditions (e.g., Jews).

In light of this nuanced form of appreciation, understanding how college can influence appreciative attitudes toward Jews involves a careful examination of the college environment and the characteristics of students themselves. Relying heavily on the work of racial climate experts (see Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, & Allen, 1998see Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, & Allen, 1999) and building on recent scholarship designed to understand worldview diversity (see Bowman et al., 2017; Mayhew et al., 2017; Rockenbach et al., in press, 2017) the college environment can be deconstructed into four mutually reinforcing dimensions: historical, psychological, behavioral, and structural climate elements. Each of the dimensions shapes how students experience the campus climate for worldview diversity. Of particular importance to this work is that historically marginalized groups, like Jews, tend to experience the social microcosm of the college campus differently than their peers who have not been marginalized, especially when campus leaders design environments that essentialize the experiences of nonmarginalized groups (e.g., do not offer Kosher dining options; see Seifert, 2007).

These theoretical perspectives informed our investigation in several ways. First, we offer that holding appreciative attitudes toward Jews is and should be an outcome of consideration for higher education scholars and practitioners. We further suggest that achievement of this outcome is not only possible, but desirable for students across all worldview identification groups. Second, we used the four climate dimensions to frame considerations of the collegiate experiences designed to understand appreciative attitudes towards Jews; of particular interest to this study, and due to the robust nature of the data and the large sample of institutions included, we were also able to model some institutional features (e.g., Jewish student organizations on campus) hypothesized to influence appreciative attitudes toward Judaism and Jews. Finally, we were able to ask questions targeted to gain information on how non-Jewish students come to hold appreciative attitudes toward Judaism and Jews, inclusive of their Jewish peers; frequently diversity work, including that on racial climate, often obfuscates notions of diverse peers by not asking students about their experiences as and with specifically identified groups of students. By asking such questions, we could more readily examine the narrative of Jewish social marginalization through better [End Page 74]

Figure 1. Input–Environment–Outcome Conceptual Model
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Figure 1.

Input–Environment–Outcome Conceptual Model

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understanding the attitudes others in the college environment held toward members of this worldview minority group.

Summary and Conceptual Framework

This study offers insight on how best to design educational environments to help non-Jewish students productively exchange with their Jewish peers, overcome anti-Semitic feelings, and potentially reduce harmful actions rooted in unappreciative attitudes toward Jews. To conceptually facilitate our analysis we used Astin’s (1993) input–environment–outcome model, which allowed us to understand the influence of students’ characteristics—inclusive of worldview identification—and campus environments and experiences on our outcome measure. Figure 1 provides a graphical representation of this model.


Data Source and Sample

The Campus Spiritual and Religious Climate Survey (CRSCS) provided the data for this study. Developed in 2009 and based on a theoretical framework that identifies four key dimensions of campus climate (see Hurtado et al., 1998), the CRSCS is a cross-sectional analysis of students’ perceptions related to different others, the nature of their informal and formal interactions with others, how they develop their worldview orientation, and the roles of structural diversity and historic practices of exclusivity and inclusivity in college. The survey was administered at 52 institutions over three years to 13,489 students (we controlled for year of administration in the models to account for any cohort effects).

Students were asked to identify their guiding life philosophy, characterized as their “worldview,” which included religious, spiritual, and nonspiritual perspectives. The majority of the sample held Christian perspectives: Roman Catholic (23%), evangelical Christian (17%), and mainline Protestant (14%). A quarter of the sample identified as atheist (9%), agnostic (10%), or nonreligious/none (6%). The remaining students identified with other worldviews, including Eastern Orthodox (2%), Muslim (1%), Buddhist (1%), Unitarian Universalist (1%), secular humanist (1%), and Church of Latter-Day Saints / Mormon (1%) or another worldview (8%). To ensure adequate statistical power, worldview groups were only disaggregated if the number of student respondents was at least 100 for that particular group; thus, the remaining 8% of students identifying as another worldview comprised some distinct groups (e.g., Hindu) that had fewer than 100 respondents as well as students who identified as another worldview. The analytic sample intentionally excluded Jewish students so as to examine non-Jewish students’ viewpoints.

The sample was predominantly female (66%) and White (77%). In terms of race/ethnicity, the remaining students identified as multiracial (8%), Asian / Asian American (6%), African American (4%), Latino/a (4%), or another race/ethnicity (2%). Finally, the sample included students attending Protestant (37%), Catholic (21%), private nonsectarian (19%), and public institutions (24%).


The dependent variable in this analysis—appreciative attitudes toward Jews—was drawn from a 10-question instrument that asked students to provide their level of agreement to prompts using a 5-point Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). We conducted confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) on the 10 items, finding the construct to be a highly reliable indicator (D = .94) of an individual’s knowledge of Jewish life, acceptance of Jews into society, and lack of pronounced prejudice toward Jews theoretically [End Page 76] associated with holding appreciative attitudes. A full list of the items included in this factor sorted by highest (0.90) to lowest (0.68) factor loadings is reported in Table 1.

We included both student-level (level 1) and institution-level (level 2) variables in the models. Student perceptions of campus climate were modeled at level 1 rather than level 2 given the individualized nature of student observations and affective responses to climate. The student-level variables in the model included gender identity (man, woman, and other gender identity), race/ethnicity (African American / Black, Asian / Asian American, Latino/a, White, multiracial, other race/ethnicity, and missing race/ethnicity), religion/worldview (agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, LDS/Mormon, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Muslim, nonreligious/none, secular humanist, spiritual, Unitarian Universalist, and other worldview), and academic major (arts, humanities, or religion; business; health professions; social sciences or education; science, engineering, or math; and other major). A variable indicating year of survey participation was created to control for cohort effects.

Table 1. Items for Dependent Measure, Appreciative Attitudes Towards Jews (α = 0.94)
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Table 1.

Items for Dependent Measure, Appreciative Attitudes Towards Jews (α = 0.94)

Other student variables included 10 indices, established in conjunction with the broader CRSCS project, reflecting perceptions of the structural, psychological, and behavioral dimensions of campus climate (e.g., Rockenbach et al., 2015). The behavioral dimension was measured through six indices: provocative experiences with worldview diversity (7 items, α = .85), negative inter-worldview engagement (4 items, α = .84), general religious/spiritual engagement (5 items, α = .73), curricular religious/spiritual engagement (7 items, α = .72), interfaith engagement (10 items, α = .75), and informal engagement with diverse peers (6 items, α = .88). The structural dimension was represented with an index of the student’s perceptions of structural worldview diversity (7 items, α = .87), while the psychological dimension was assessed via three indices: space for support and spiritual expression (6 items, α = .86), divisive psychological [End Page 77] climate (6 items, α = .80), and insensitivity on campus (13 items, α = .92).

Table 2. Descriptive Statistics for All Variables
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Table 2.

Descriptive Statistics for All Variables

Given the number of institutions in the sample, we did not want to include too many level 2 predictors in the analyses. Since institutional religious affiliation and control are frequently related to student outcomes in previous research (see Felix & Bowman, 2015; Mayhew, 2012), we used these attributes in the models (i.e., public, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and private nonsectarian). We then conducted preliminary analyses of institutional data to consider several additional institutional practices that might also be included; specifically, we examined whether each variable was a significant predictor when controlling for the student characteristics (excluding their experiences) and institutional affiliation and control. This process resulted in our including two dichotomous variables indicating whether [End Page 78] the college or university had a multifaith center on campus and whether it had an identified Jewish student organization.

All institutional and student variables that indicated three or more categories were effect coded (i.e., gender identity, race/ethnicity, religious/worldview identification, academic major, and institutional type/control). Effect codes compare a value for one group (e.g., students who identify with Buddhism) to the overall group mean of all students (specifically, the unweighted mean of the group means) rather than to an arbitrary reference group (as is the case with dummy coding; see Mayhew & Simonoff, 2015). As a result, a statistically significant finding for an effect-coded variable indicates that that group has attitudes that are more (or less) favorable than those of the average participant.

The continuous independent variables and the dependent variable were all standardized with a mean of 0 and a standard deviation [End Page 79] of 1. As a result, unstandardized regression coefficients for these predictors are analogous to standardized coefficients, and coefficients for categorical variables can be interpreted as adjusted Cohen’s ds (J. Cohen, Cohen, West, & Aiken, 2003). Missing values for continuous variables were assessed and imputed via the EM (expectation-maximization) method in SPSS; such maximum likelihood methods are generally superior to other approaches for dealing with incomplete data (e.g., listwise or pairwise deletion; see Allison, 2002, 2012; Larsen, 2011; Raghunathan, 2004). All variables were initially missing fewer than 6.2% of cases. Descriptive statistics are provided in Table 2.


The hierarchical nature of the data—with students nested in institutions—necessitated using a multilevel modeling approach. Because hierarchical data violates the independence assumption of ordinary least squares regression, multilevel modeling enabled us to partition the within-institution (level 1) and between-institution (level 2) variance and estimate the standard errors appropriately (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002). The intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) was .050, which means that 5.0% of the variance in appreciative attitudes toward Jews—or how students differ from one another in their attitudes—can be attributed to differences across institutions. In other words, unique aspects of various institutional environments play a role, at least in part, in shaping student attitudes within those contexts. Multilevel modeling is generally considered necessary when the ICC is at least 5.0% (Heck & Thomas, 2009; Porter, 2006).

Several different multilevel models were constructed; Table 3 displays each model. This blocked hierarchical analysis approach allowed us to determine whether significant results for precollege and/or institutional variables are mediated (or explained) by college experiences and perceptions. Model 1 included all student-level precollege variables (i.e., gender identity, race/ethnicity, and religious/worldview identification) as well as two other attributes (i.e., year of assessment and academic major). Model 2 consisted of the same student characteristics from Model 1 as well as the institutional variables (i.e., institution type, multifaith center, and Jewish student organization); these added variables were the only ones entered at level 2. Model 3 included all Model 2 variables, plus students’ college experiences and behaviors (provocative experiences with worldview diversity, negative interworldview engagement, general religious and spiritual activities, curricular religious and spiritual engagement, interfaith engagement, and informal interactions with diverse peers). Model 4 contained the Model 3 variables as well as student perceptions of structural and psychological aspects of campus climate (i.e., perceived structural worldview diversity, space for support and spiritual expression, divisive psychological climate, and insensitivity on campus).


This study has limitations. First, this multi-institutional sample was not nationally representative; most notably, about two thirds of the participating schools were religiously affiliated. Among 4-year, not-for-profit institutions in the US, approximately 30% each are public, private nonsectarian, and Protestant-affiliated, while around 10% are Catholic-affiliated (see Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, 2015). As a result, findings pertaining to institutional religious affiliation should be interpreted with this limitation in mind. In other ways, this institutional representation may be a strength of the study, because the sample includes adequate numbers of students from a variety [End Page 80] of institutional types. Second, the fact that the data are cross-sectional curtails our ability to make claims about student development and change. We are cautious with our interpretations and highlight those variables that evince relationships with appreciative attitudes toward Jews rather than inferring that such variables affect growth or change in these attitudes.


Table 3 provides the full results for hierarchical linear modeling analyses. As described earlier, the coefficients and significance tests for effect-coded variables indicate the difference between a particular group and the unweighted average value for that construct. In Model 1, relative to the average level, students who identified as agnostic, secular humanist, spiritual, Unitarian Universalist, and mainline Protestant had more appreciative attitudes toward Jews, whereas those who identified as Eastern Orthodox and Muslim exhibited less appreciative attitudes. Because the dependent variable is standardized, these coefficients can be interpreted as adjusted Cohen’s ds that indicate relationships when controlling for all other variables. For example, considered with respect to effect sizes, the difference in appreciative attitudes towards Jews in the final model between students identifying as Muslim (–.413) and those identifying as Unitarian Universalist (.317) is roughly three quarters of a standard deviation. Female, White, and multiracial students were significantly above average in their appreciative attitudes toward Jews, whereas Black / African American and Asian / Asian American students were below the average value. Students majoring in the arts/humanities/religion and social sciences / education were significantly above average in their appreciative attitudes, whereas those majoring in the health professions and business were below the average value. This model explains 5.8% of the overall variance in the outcome. Hierarchical linear modeling provides statistics about the variance explained at each level (in this case, individual and institutional). We computed the overall amount of variance explained by taking the weighted average of these two levels, accounting for the fact that the vast majority of variance in the outcome occurs at the student level.

All of the significant relationships in Model 1 remained significant in Model 2. Among the institutional variables added in Model 2 (i.e., institutional control, religious affiliation, and campus resources), having a registered Jewish student organization on campus is positively related to appreciative attitudes towards Jews. The variance explained in Model 2 (7.4%) is comparable to that of Model 1.

The pattern of significant relationships stayed similar from Model 2 to Model 3, with a few exceptions. The coefficients for female, Black / African American, nonreligious, and secular humanist students all became nonsignificant. Among the college experiences added in Model 3, provocative experiences with worldview diversity, interfaith experiences, and informal engagement with diverse peers are positive predictors, whereas negative interworldview engagement is negatively related. Because these experiential variables and the dependent variable were standardized, these coefficients are analogous to standardized regression coefficients. This model explains 17.3% of the variance.

When incorporating the perception variables in Model 4, negative interworldview engagement become nonsignificant. Perceiving space for support and spiritual expression is positively related to appreciative attitudes, whereas perceiving structural worldview diversity, divisive psychological climate, and insensitivity on campus are all negatively related. This model explains 19.9% of the total variance. [End Page 81]

Table 3. Results for Multilevel Analyses Predicting Appreciative Attitudes Toward Jews
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Table 3.

Results for Multilevel Analyses Predicting Appreciative Attitudes Toward Jews

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Overall, the results suggest that non-Jewish students’ appreciative attitudes toward Jews—and the campus climate conditions that promote such appreciation—are complicated, calling for a careful interpretation of results in the context of both the study’s limitations as well as its location within its particular sociohistorical context. Important to note is that we approach this discussion in the pluralistic spirit of Eck (1993, 2006), seeking to illuminate student characteristics and experiences in service of promoting greater understanding across worldviews. We further nuance this conversation with the consideration that within all student identification patterns, including worldview identification, varying degrees of heterogeneity exist; like racial identification patterns, there may likely be more variation within religious, spiritual, and worldview identification patterns than between them.

Appreciative attitudes toward Judaism and Jews was associated with three positive climate dimensions: informal engagement with diverse peers (e.g., socializing with someone of a different worldview), space for support and spiritual expression (e.g., agreeing that the campus is a safe place to express one’s worldview), and provocative experiences with worldview diversity (e.g., feeling challenged to rethink one’s assumptions about another worldview). Like the findings in other studies (see Bowman et al., 2017; Mayhew et al., 2017; Rockenbach et al., 2017) our findings suggest that appreciative attitudes toward Jews may emerge when students engage with unlike others, perceive that their campus has made an effort to foster religious and spiritual life, and are pushed outside of their worldview comfort zone during college. Indeed, promoting appreciative attitudes toward Jews might be associated with students having spaces in which they are free to openly express their worldview identities and create productive avenues of provocation (see Shapses-Wertheim, 2014).

Turning to negative climate dimensions, non-Jewish students who perceived their campus to be divisive and insensitive to worldview diversity were less likely to hold appreciative attitudes toward Judaism and Jews. Relatedly, non-Jewish students who had negative experiences engaging worldview differences (e.g., hurtful, unresolved interactions) were also more likely to hold unappreciative attitudes toward Jews. These findings speak to the harmful influence microaggressions can have on creating a positive campus climate for worldview diversity and pluralistic orientations. Often expressed insidiously, microaggressions erode the potential of productive exchange across difference (see Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000) and must not be overlooked or undervalued in efforts to promote appreciative attitudes toward Jews.

Notably, perceptions of structural and psychological aspects of campus climate attenuated the adverse impact of negative interworldview engagement on appreciative attitudes toward Judaism and Jews. Once climate indicators were accounted for in the model, the effect of negative interworldview engagement—feeling silenced, guarded, tense, and hurt in exchanges with diverse others—became nonsignificant. This finding underscores the vital role of climate as setting the context for fostering students’ pluralistic and appreciative attitudes toward other worldview groups (see Bowman et al., 2017; Mayhew et al., 2017; Rockenbach et al., in press, 2017): Negative interactions among students—and consequently less appreciative attitudes—manifest in climates that are divisive, insensitive, and unsupportive. In campus spaces that inspire free expression, intergroup rapport, and mutual respect, student interactions are less likely to be deleterious. [End Page 84]

Of particular interest was the finding that climate dimensions, as a group of considered constructs, were more powerful predictors of appreciative attitudes toward Jews than other, more common practice indicators such as engagement in formal worldview-based curricular and cocurricular activities. These results indicate that cultivating appreciative attitudes toward Judaism and Jews may be distinctively associated with the historical narrative of the particular campus; this form of learning may not be something that can be entirely addressed with new courses or cocurricular programs and activities but may require full community investment in creating spaces that promote specific appreciation toward Jews, especially in the current political climate wrought with anti-Sematic tenor and expression (Blumberg, 2016). Indeed, these results also highlight the need for studies that examine worldview development as it relates to climate dimensions for named worldview minoritized groups; studying student religiosity and spirituality addresses a distinctive set of questions that can best be answered through the administration of an equally distinctive set of climate and outcome measures.

Important to efforts by Jewish organizations to promote appreciative attitudes toward Judaism and Jews, the presence of a Jewish organization on campus was positively associated with appreciative attitudes in the final multilevel model, while having a multifaith center on campus shared no significant relationship to the outcome. One interpretation of this finding may be that the presence of a Jewish organization (e.g., Chabad on Campus, Hillel, student-led group) not only has a positive influence on Jewish students (Blumenfeld & Klein, 2009), but may also influence on students of other worldviews in terms of promoting appreciative attitudes towards Jews within the campus community. A second interpretation might be that such organizations are functioning as the distinctive space where students come to appreciate what makes Judaism and the Jewish experience distinctive from other worldview expressions. This may help explain why the presence of a Jewish organization was associated with appreciative attitudes while having a multifaith center was not.

That said, results from this study also indicate that participation in interfaith activities is associated with cultivating non-Jews’ appreciative attitudes toward Judaism and Jews. Central to the mission of any American higher education institution is the idea that college and university life should leverage learning opportunities in their many forms; relevant practices include, but are not limited to, creating spaces designed to expose students to different perspectives, engaging students in meaningful dialogues across these perspectives, and ultimately finding the commonalities among these perspectives in specific efforts that lead to making a difference in the world. These repeated productive interactions, which often occur through the informal and cooperative exchanges that form the essence of peer culture, are the foundational elements of interfaith leaders who move tolerance to appreciation through creating opportunities for students across faith and secular traditions to work together toward a common purpose (see Rockenbach et al., 2015).

At the level of student worldview identification patterns, we detected clear differences in appreciative attitudes toward Jews across students of varying religious identities. On average, students identifying as Unitarian Universalist, agnostic, spiritual, and mainline Protestant held higher appreciative attitudes toward Jews while students identifying as Eastern Orthodox or Muslim reported lower levels of appreciative attitudes. These findings present opportunity for reflection on the truly mixed nature of appreciative attitudes. After controlling for many other personal [End Page 85] characteristics and aspects of the collegiate environment, we found nearly 30% of students in the sample of non-Jewish students held appreciative attitudes toward Jews that were positive relative to the average student. Contextualizing this statistic, some may conclude that 30% is high, given the tenuous relationship Jews have historically shared with higher education in the United States. Of course, others will interpret this number differently, as an indicator that anti-Jewish attitudes persist on many college campuses. We offer that perhaps both conclusions are reasonable and instructive; institutions must find better ways of creating opportunities for non-Jewish students to not only interact with Jews, but to do so in supportive ways that inspire expressed appreciation over mere tolerance.

Turning finally to identification patterns not specific to worldview, students who identified as White or multiracial reported, on average, significant and positive appreciative attitudes toward Jews, while students identifying as Asian / Asian American reported relatively lower levels of appreciation. For all other racial identification patterns, race either never held explanatory power in relationship to the criterion (i.e., Latino/a, other race/ethnicity, missing race/ethnicity) or held attitudes that lost significance with the introduction of environmental covariates into the model (i.e., African American / Black). Due to the relatively small percentage of Jews in the population as a whole, it remains possible that students may have, and may continue to have, limited exposure to individuals who self-identify as Jewish. Without exposure to Jews, the reach of educational mechanisms designed to help students hold appreciative attitudes towards this group may have been limited (see Allport, 1954; Hurtado et al., 1999). Furthermore, interpreting the effects for students identifying as Asian / Asian American may be complicated by the range of ethnicities represented by this subgroup (see Teranishi, 2010) and/or the possible intersection of racial and religious identification patterns (see Putnam & Campbell, 2010). Indeed, in this sample nearly 35% of students who identified as Muslim also identified as Asian.

With regard to academic majors, significant and positive findings were reported for students majoring in the arts, humanities, or religion and also the social sciences or education. Contributing to these mixed results, less appreciative attitudes were reported for students majoring in the health professions or business. Though the effects are small, they suggest that students in the arts and social sciences may have greater opportunities to engage in course content and structured dialogue concerning appreciation across difference than students outside of these majors (Rockenbach et al., 2015).


The robustness of these findings suggests implications for practice, research, and theory. Regarding practice, educators adopting an equity-minded perspective to productive exchange across worldview differences might interpret a distinct message from these findings: institutions may be failing our Muslim and Eastern Orthodox students. How can educators design contexts that encourage Muslim and Eastern Orthodox students to develop appreciative attitudes toward Judaism and Jews? With consistent reference to college and university contexts representing a microcosm of society, it appears that colleges and universities are sustaining and reproducing global narratives of exclusion, divisiveness and polarity in the context of worldview differences and especially with regard to Judaism and the Jewish college student. With a surge of international students enrolling in higher education (Institute of International Education, 2014), it will become increasingly [End Page 86] important for institutions to develop strategies for helping students appreciate peers who hold different worldviews, including Jews.

Another implication is that providing campuses with resources and support may signal to all in the educational community that Judaism and Jews are valued and important. While certainly such support may take the appearance of formal organizations, less resource-intensive actions might include providing Jewish students with easy access to kosher meals, allowing and even encouraging on-campus displays of Jewish holiday celebrations (e.g., sukkahs, menorahs), and ensuring that Jewish students are provided accommodations in order to meaningfully observe holidays (e.g., canceling classes or allowing excused absences on Yom Kippur). When such actions are engaged, they can have the added benefit of initiating meaningful informal conversations between non-Jews and their Jewish peers that can serve to influence appreciative attitudes by potentially turning confusion regarding Judaism and its symbols into appreciation for its traditions and, most importantly, its people.

With respect to research, we encourage additional studies to explore how Jews and other worldview minority groups are perceived within the college environment. While this study focused only on students’ appreciative attitudes, the attitudes of others in the higher education community toward Jews—especially faculty and those in positions of authority (e.g., academic leadership, senior staff, coaches)—are also worthy of research consideration. Again taking scholarship on racial/ethnic diversity as a springboard, such efforts to assess faculty and others must be made while carefully considering how arguments are framed, being sure to examine institutional threats to equity and inclusion (see Bensimon, 2007).

Turning finally to theoretical implications, we see an opportunity for new innovations that bridge the extant literature on interfaith exchange and student development within the campus environment. We speculate that new theory might explore how interfaith and other forms of student exchange across difference may transpire at the intersection of students’ social spheres and the functional and/or spatial environments that students move through on a day-to-day basis. In translating theory to practice and design, we wonder: What does the optimal space for interfaith exchange look like? Is it large or small? Is it structured to signal formality, informality, or some combination of the two? Is it located in a primary or more secluded space on campus?


Recent expressions of anti-Semitism have generated deep concern among Jews, education leaders, and individuals committed to creating a society that lives up to its ideals of free religious exercise, pluralism, and social justice. With this study we have suggested that college campuses that actively promote positive interfaith exchange and intentionally create climates that move beyond tolerance to enacted appreciation can support non-Jewish students’ appreciative attitudes toward Judaism and Jews. When supporting students in this way, colleges and educators may in turn empower all community members to become central actors in fulfilling the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam—repairing the world. [End Page 87]

Matthew J. Mayhew

Matthew J. Mayhew is the William Ray and Marie Adamson Flesher Professor of Educational Administration with a Focus on Higher Education and Student Affairs at The Ohio State University.

Nicholas A. Bowman

Nicholas A. Bowman is Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs as well as Director of the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa.

Alyssa N. Rockenbach

Alyssa N. Rockenbach is Professor of Higher Education at North Carolina State University.

Benjamin Selznick

Benjamin Selznick is Assistant Professor of Postsecondary Analysis and Leadership at James Madison University.

Tiffani Riggers-Piehl

Tiffani Riggers-Piehl is Assistant Professor of Higher Education at University of Missouri Kansas City.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Matthew J. Mayhew at


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