By Alex Putterman
NEW BRITAIN — Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) sits in New Britain, not far from the region’s large pockets of Jewish population and no more than 10 miles from the University of Hartford and its booming Jewish life. And yet, the Jewish Community have scant representation on campus at a school that, some say, carries a reputation of being unfriendly to Jewish students.
Pam Majidy is the woman tasked with changing the realities and perceived realities of Jewish life at CCSU. A December 2011 graduate, Majidy participated in the campus Hillel from 2007 through 2010 and is now the school’s Jewish Life coordinator, a position funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. In that role, she leads the Hillel club while promoting Judaism across campus. She assumed the job in the fall of 2012 and immediately set out to grow the Hillel’s membership.
So far, recruitment has been slow-going. Majidy has heard tales of Hillel drawing as many as 20 students in the ‘80s, but since she’s been involved, first as a student, the numbers have been more modest. Currently, after the graduation of several members last spring, only three students are enlisted. The university does not keep record of Jewish population at CCSU, but Majidy sees room for growth for both her club’s membership and Jewish population at the school at large.
“We’re just trying to get more of a presence on campus,” Majidy says. “Like any group, it’s the students who have to want to be part of the student group. The students have to want to self-identify as Jewish. Why they don’t, I don’t know.”
Majidy mentions one popular theory about Central’s problem attracting Jews and cultivating Jewish life on campus. In recent years, one or two influential faculty members promoted anti-Israel (and, by proxy some would argue, anti-Jewish) viewpoints, influencing attitudes toward Jews at CCSU and engendering the perception that the university was unfriendly to them. As part of a lecture series on the Middle East, Majidy recalls, the school brought several anti-Israel speakers, casting an appearance of one-sidedness. “It cast this cloud, this bubble over Central,” she says.
With the departure of certain faculty, Majidy says attitudes are improving, She is working hard to prove wrong those who suggest Central is a poor fit for Jewish students. She holds holiday programs on Sukkot and Chanukah among others, and hosts Shabbat dinners for all interested. She has spoken to students at dormitories on campus and asked admissions to recruit at Jewish high schools. In 2011, she hosted a Holocaust exhibit on campus, the first such display at Central in a decade.
The next step, Majidy reasons, is a space for Hillel to operate. If the club could find a permanent home, it could grow more quickly.
“I hope for some kind of space on campus,” she says. “I want to kind of lift the bubble, to have more students who want to self-identify, who want to be a part of this, who want to make Central everything it could be… I would like to see more bodies, and I would like to see more of a presence on campus.”
Majidy says the administration has many interests to consider but hopes the school will recognize the potential benefits of a strong Hillel.
“We are fighting to make campus more tolerant,” Majidy says. “We’re fighting prejudice and hate. We’re building connections; we’re working together; we’re promoting tolerance; we’re promoting diversity; we’re promoting relationship building. We are just trying to make the campus more universal so a larger population will apply, so it only helps the school.”
For now, a small but dedicated group will represent the CCSU Jewish community best they can. One day, Majidy hopes Central will be more like the University of Hartford, like UConn, like Trinity, with a full-time director and a space on campus to celebrate Jewish life. She thinks it will get there.
“Central is changing,” she says. “There are students and faculty hard at work to change the misconceptions of the school.”