Humanities course uses Star of David to simulate Holocaust discrimination

April 18, 2016

Joe Hollmann
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A few students this semester are walking around campus with a pin on their shirt or backpack.

The Star of David, a sacred symbol in the Jewish religion, is being used to help students in HUM 3990 to understand the discrimination and labeling of the Holocaust.

The class is in its second year and consists of three assignments, all of which are papers focused on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

History lecturer Mel Weissman and his co-teacher Peter Brumlik (also a history lecturer) give the option to forgo a paper and instead record a journal that documents the student’s personal experience of wearing the Star of David patch throughout the semester.

“It shows them what it would be like to be the ‘other,” said Weissman.

Students can wear the star just to class, on campus, or for the entire day, Weissman said. Students are encouraged to log reactions, verbal and non-verbal, from people they interact with in day-to-day life.

Weissman said most students experience strange looks and double-takes, but there have been more extreme cases.

“It has run the spectrum,” he said.

Every Monday, Weissman asks the students who decided to wear the patch if they want to share any of their experiences.

A former student decided to wear the patch while waitressing at her job and experienced a 25 percent drop in tips.

Another student had an evangelical group tell them to take the patch off because it was “offensive.”

Not all of the students decide to participate, according to Weissman. Reasons some of the students refrain from wearing the patch were that they themselves were Jewish, or were already being discriminated for another reason and didn’t want to add to it.

But controversy still exists regarding activities such as what is offered in the class.

The Anti-Defamation League, which according to its website exists “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” does not support the idea of activities like Weissman’s.

The ADL believes such activities trivialize the experience of victims of the Holocaust, stereotype Jewish group behavior and reinforce negative views of the victims.

Weissman said the project is strictly voluntary.

“It would be totally inappropriate and unprofessional to make this a requirement,” said Weissman.

Junior psychology major Amelia Nunn was one of the students who decided to participate. Nunn wears the star on her backpack every Monday.

Although Nunn said she has received puzzling looks and stares, no one has ever come up and talked to her about it.

“That’s really the motivation, to get a reaction to talk about it,” said Nunn.

Nunn did say the activity helps facilitate the conversation of the awfulness of the Holocaust.

“It makes it personal, it makes you make an investment. Not remembering these people is almost like killing them again,” said Nunn.

Nunn is glad she took the class, but warns students of the content.

“It’s a hard topic to swallow. It’s not light on the heart to talk about every Monday.”

Overall, Nunn believes students who decided to wear the patch had a positive experience.

“We might as well do this out of respect,” she said.