For many Jewish college students, organizations like Hillel offer a safe, welcoming space to meet with other Jewish students and form a community while away from home. That was not the case for several students at Purdue University who have claimed that the 53-year-old Hillel director, Phillip Schlossberg, has made inappropriate, sexual comments that left them feeling uncomfortable. And yet, he still has his job.
One young woman spoke to the Forward about her experiences with Schlossberg when she was a sophomore in 2016. According to the student, who has remained anonymous, she and a male student were going through a list of names of incoming Jewish freshman with Schlossberg when he started making inappropriate comments:
As they went through the list together, the student scanning to see if she recognized any names, Schlossberg started commenting on the young women whose names appeared.
“He said things like, ‘Oh I bet she’s really hot,’ or like, ‘This sounds like the name of somebody who’s either really ugly or like a hooker,’” the student said.
The female student was so uncomfortable she reported the incident to Hillel’s headquarters in Washington D.C. She also never returned to Hillel.
While some students chalk up Schlossberg’s behavior to being a “goofy guy” with a “weird sense of humor,” others still are left feeling uncomfortable in his presence. As one female student told the Forward: “He makes a lot of inappropriate jokes… There was a while I did not want to go in his office by myself. I would take someone with me.”
Then there was that time he got banned from leading Birthright trips.
As the Forward reports, since his time working for Purdue Hillel starting in 1996, Schlossberg has staffed two dozen Birthright trips. That came to a halt after participants complained of Schlossberg’s inappropriate behavior on a Hillel-sponsored Birthright trip in the Spring of 2017. One participant on the trip has said, “He was overall inappropriate in almost any way possible.” As the Forward reports:
According to the person who was on the trip, Schlossberg at one point told the entire group to be on their best behavior when a group of Israelis were preparing to join the bus “because these Israelis are sexy and hot and everyone wants to get a good hookup.” Later, once the Israelis had arrived, he said, in front of them: “Didn’t I tell you they were sexy?”
The person also said that Schlossberg used homophobic language, such as: “Don’t be gay about it,” and, “What are you, gay?”
After the trip, students got in touch with Hillel, and Schlossberg was subsequently banned from leading any Birthright trips in the future. Which makes sense.
So why is he still director of the Purdue Hillel?
The student who originally reported Schlossberg’s inappropriate comments on incoming freshman was met with a frustrating response from Hillel International: She was welcome to speak with Schlossberg directly about her concerns. “The entire issue is that I’m not comfortable around him,” the student said. “I don’t feel safe and I don’t think they understood that or they cared.”
In response to both the incidents at Hillel and Birthright, Hillel International and the local Purdue Hillel came out with an official statement, saying their responses were “consistent with Hillel’s proactive approach to ensuring a safe and welcoming environment for all students. Hillel International is a leader in providing resources and training for Hillel professionals to ensure all students and community members are treated with dignity and respect. We encourage any students with concerns to connect with their local Hillel leadership or Hillel International, as appropriate.”
But for students taking that advice to heart, it’s frustrating to see that a man deemed too inappropriate for Birthright is still at the helm of the Jewish community on campus.