(JTA) – Jewish students at Connecticut College celebrated in March when they successfully pressured their school’s president to step down over her plans to host a fundraiser at a golf club with an alleged antisemitic and racist history.
But some recoiled this week when they learned who their new interim leader would be: a university administrator holding antisemitism baggage of his own.
The liberal arts college in New London announced Thursday thay it was appointing Leslie Wong, a member of its board of trustees, as its interim president beginning July 1 until the board identifies a permanent hire. Jewish student activists noted a key point on Wong’s resume: his seven-year tenure as president of San Francisco State University, which was marred by accusations that the school had propagated “institutional antisemitism.”
“I find it unbelievable that Connecticut College chose to hire an antisemitic interim president right after our previous antisemitic president resigned,” Davi Schulman, a Connecticut College undergraduate and co-president of the university Hillel, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“I feel extremely disappointed in the administration’s continued disregard toward students of all identities, and Jewish students in particular,” Schulman said. “I worry about what the incoming Jewish students will think when they learn about their new president’s history.”
Wong is a Chinese-Mexican psychologist who has worked in higher education for more than four decades, and led San Francisco State from 2012 to 2019. During that time, local Jewish groups charged, he failed to respond forcefully enough to a series of incidents affecting Jewish life on campus, including a protest by anti-Zionists who had disrupted a campus visit by the mayor of Jerusalem, and a school information fair for marginalized students that had deliberately excluded the campus Hillel from participating.
An investigation by J. The Jewish News of Northern California showed that, while Wong had decried these incidents, ordered investigations into the school’s handling of them and met several times with Jewish representatives, he also resented spending so much time addressing Jewish concerns. The investigation found that he partially blamed Hillel for the incident involving the mayor of Jerusalem’s visit, and told Jewish groups he would “not play favorites.”
In a 2017 interview with the paper amid the controversy, Wong also declined to say whether Zionists were welcome on campus, saying, “Am I comfortable opening up the gates to everyone? Gosh, of course not. I’m not the kind of guy who gets into absolutes like that.” He later apologized for his comments.
Students at the university Hillel wrote an email to Wong saying the school had “a problem with institutional anti-Semitism,” and that he had failed to address it; the Hillel’s executive director, the local Jewish Community Relations Council and a Jewish studies professor on campus also spoke out against him. California State University’s chancellor and the state’s Jewish legislative caucus also got involved; pro-Israel students also filed a lawsuit against Wong and the university, which was settled in 2019.
That year, Wong retired from university leadership and joined the Connecticut College board.
The college defended his appointment in a statement to JTA. “Dr. Wong is a nationally respected leader in higher education whose commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has been evident throughout his academic career,” it said, noting the board “considered the entirety of his tenure at SFSU and determined that when difficult issues arose on campus, they were handled professionally, including through extensive direct dialogue with the affected parties.”
The college added, “These efforts allowed concerned parties to be heard, provided accountability, and enabled the university to move forward.”
Wong will assume the interim presidency at a time when Jewish students on campus are on edge — and newly organized. The campus Hillel leaders had helped found a coalition of student groups who organized against the previous president, Katherine Bergeron, over the golf club fundraiser controversy and a litany of other complaints tied to administrative support of campus diversity initiatives. To oust Bergeron, the students had staged a 10-day sit-in on a campus administrative building. The campus Hillel building also served as a gathering place for student activists staging actions against Bergeron.
Whether that kind of activism can be repeated with Wong is unclear, Schulman said. The college is now on summer break, making organization a challenge. Wong will only be in this leadership role for a short while. And he comes in with a strong track record of promoting diversity and inclusion in other matters, including serving in a diversity-focused role with the NCAA board of governors.
“I think that the Jewish population has the most reason to be angry,” Schulman said. “I’ll be interested to see: Does everyone come together in the same way we did when all marginalized students were under attack? I think it’s possible.”
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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