David Shneer: My biggest challenge is convincing people that Jewish Studies is not only for Jews nor is just about the study of Judaism. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that every faculty member hears from a student: "I'm not Jewish. Can I be in this class?" I hear around campus the presumption that Jewish Studies is an advocacy unit, not an academic unit, and I hear this as often from Jews as from non-Jews. As director, I try to communicate to everyone that Jewish Studies is about the study of Jewish culture, society, life, and religion and is open to everyone.
Jamie Polliard: Our communication is clearly successful, since about 50 percent of the students in our courses are not Jewish. But we're missing something, because nearly all of the students pursuing the certificate in Jewish Studies are Jewish.
David: I also hear frequently that I should be an advocate for all things Jewish. Of course, the assumption is that I, as director, am Jewish, a bold assumption, one that I hope is true less often.
Jamie: I have spent the last nine years of my career working in the Jewish community, and I am not Jewish. People are often surprised that a non-Jew would be running a Jewish Studies program. I think this speaks to a subliminal message that if you aren't Jewish, why would you be interested in this subject matter. We are very deliberate to make sure our communications do not include what we refer to as "we Jews" talk. This can often be alienating, especially when you are working with a student population.
David: A final challenge, but one that I think I'm quite good at navigating, is negotiating the boundaries between the Jewish community, who are usually the financial supporters of Jewish Studies, and the intellectual needs of the campus. Sometimes this comes up around issues related to Israel, although most recently, I had a major issue connected to a program on Jesus as a Jew.
Jamie: This negotiation is very challenging especially working on a campus where issues around Israel have been very divisive in the university and surrounding community and when we are working to communicate a message of inclusiveness and openness and a yearning for a global approach to Jewish Studies.