Queens College is no different. Out of more than 19,000 students enrolled at the CUNY school, almost one-third are white, more than a quarter are Latino and Asian and nearly ten percent are African American, according to the school’s Office of Institutional Research.
And although CUNY schools do not collect data on religious populations at their schools, Queens College has an estimated 4,000 Jewish students on campus, according to Uri Cohen, executive director of Queens College Hillel.
Hillel is the “center for Jewish life” at the college, Cohen said. The organization provides leadership, community and social opportunities for students to engage with their Jewish identities.
“The idea of Hillel is that during the college years, there are so many important things that happen to a student’s life: emotional development, academic and intellectual development, social development, all kinds of things,” Cohen said. “It’s really important for Jewish students that Jewish identity be part of that process.”
Last December in Orlando, Queens College Hillel received international distinction. It won the Phillip H. and Susan Rudd Cohen Outstanding Campus Award, an accolade given to a campus that embodies Hillel International’s mission of creating meaningful Jewish experiences for students.
The Hillel system includes 550 campuses across five continents.
“Queens College Hillel demonstrates a passion for enriching the lives of our students and ensuring that every facet of Hillel reflects a culture of excellence,” said Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International. “Their work is critical not only to their own community, but is helping to grow the next generation of Jewish leaders across the country.”
The international organization noted Queens College Hillel’s work specifically with a diverse student population. The award recognized the group’s ability to engage both Jewish and non-Jewish students to expand the Hillel network.
Cohen said within the Queens Jewish community itself, there is a lot of diversity, both religiously and ethnically. He said the campus has 1,000 Orthodox students, 1,000 Bukharian students, 350 students from Iran and students from countries like Tunisia, Morocco, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
“The fact that our Hillel is serving the population with incredible diversity is really a wonderful thing,” Cohen said. “It’s very, very special to have Queens College have this recognition that they really deserve.”
Cohen said Queens College Hillel tries to serve the needs of each student who comes in with his or her own experience, background and perception of the world. In the last academic year, they served 1,270 students, which Cohen said was 10 percent more than the previous year.
And with a team of just seven staff members, Cohen said the group is “severely under-resourced.” Only four members work full-time with students.
“That’s 1,000 students per staff member,” Cohen said. “That’s totally absurd.”
But they’re still “doing a really good job” with what they have. Queens College Hillel breaks down its population into “micro-communities” so they can tailor their programming to each group’s specific needs, but they’re still under one “big tent.”
“It’s amazing to receive the award,” Cohen said. “The external and international recognition gives us all the confidence in the world going forward. It’s just wonderful.”