University of Connecticut student Nathan Schachter describes his Jewish faith as “a part of me since I was born.”
The West Hartford-born junior communications major grew up in a tight-knit Jewish community, and said that he is “proud” of practicing Judaism, participating in UConn Hillel events as a member of the student board and wearing a UConn-embroidered kippah– a traditional religious head covering worn by practicing Jews.
“In Israel, [where everyone is Jewish], people don’t wear a kippah,” Schachter said. “But when you’re in a predominantly non-Jewish population, it’s not so much a religious thing as an identity thing. When I came to UConn, I decided I wanted to wear it wherever I go.”
Schachter was wearing his kippah on the evening of August 31st when he was walking with a friend to the Towers dining hall on the way back from a Hillel meeting. As the two walked, a car passed by.
“The back windows opened,” Schachter said. “The girl sitting in the back seat yelled out, ‘Go to the fucking ovens!’ and just… [drove] on. It was being said because I was there, wearing my kippah.”
Schachter said that it took him a moment to process what had happened to him, and called Hillel staff shortly afterwards, who directed him to Community Standards.
Hillel is the center for Jewish life at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT. (Courtesy/University of Connecticut)
“[Hillel staff] just stayed and talked with me. I was with friends. I was safe,” Schachter said.
Shortly afterwards, Schachter posted about his experience on his Facebook page, which generated over 1,000 likes, 240 shares and dozens of comments.
“I [wrote] the post to kind of get some closure. For my whole life, including my years at UConn…[,] never could I have imagined this would be said to me,” Schachter said. “In that moment it’s where it hit me: This was said to me, and it bothers me.”
Schacter said he created the post in order to make people aware and didn’t think it would be read past his friends and family.
“I think it’s important that people in my community know that this happened,” Schachter said.“I think it was a moment of awareness for both the greater UConn community… and people all over.”
UConn Hillel has stated its support of Schachter, and that they are working with UConn administrators to address the incident.
“We appreciate the care and commitment that the University of Connecticut has provided in investigating the event and supporting Nathan and the Jewish community on campus,” Scott Selig, executive director of UConn Hillel, said. “UConn Hillel takes the security and safety of all students seriously and is confident that UConn is a safe and welcoming environment.”
The Dean of Student’s office, as well as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Institutional Equity have been notified of the incident, according to UConn Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz.
“UConn has no tolerance for discrimination, harassment and intimidation based on bigotry or bias. We want our campuses to be welcoming and inclusive for everyone, and any behaviors that contradict those values are taken very seriously,” Reitz said. “The information that was shared with the university about this incident has been provided to UConn Police, who are investigating.”
In the meantime, Schachter said that he is both trying to move on from incident and reflecting on it.
“This happened on the day after the [Charlottesville] Vigil, which shocks me,” Schachter said “Literally less than 24 hours beforehand, I was standing with students and faculty… against discrimination.”
Schachter said that he will continue to speak out against discrimination, in light of what he has experienced.
“I think my role is to… speak up against what has happened to me, so that others can be aware that it can happen right on our campus,” Schachter said. “I think it’s important to remind [others] that, [they] are not alone. It’s happened all over. I think it’s important for people to know that, instead of hiding in a corner, continue to be proud of who you are, and continue pushing on. One thing that one person says about your outside appearance doesn’t define who you are.”
Schachter said that if he had the opportunity to meet with the person who harassed him, he would try and communicate his feelings about the incident.
“I think I would want to sit down [with the perpetrator] and express what I felt when I went through it, and somehow find a way to make her aware, what this kind of speech does,” Schachter said.
Overall, Schachter encouraged his fellow students to remain aware of the discrimination close to home.
“It’s not just big events, like Charlottesville,” Schacter said. “It can happen in Storrs, Connecticut, in the same regard.”
If you have faced harassment or discrimination, contact UConn Community Standards at 860-486-8402 or email@example.com.
Nathan Shachter is a member of CAMERA-supported group UConn Huskies for Israel.
Contributed by Marlese Lessing.
This article was originally published in UConn’s campus paper, The Daily Campus.