Adam Cohen has been an advocate for Jewish students, faculty and staff at DePauw for more than 30 years. This week, in light of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people, Cohen has been listening to the voices of grief from both Jewish members of the DePauw community and those who are from Pittsburgh.
Student reactions are mixed, said Cohen, coordinator of spiritual life and himself a Jew. “Some are scared, some are sad, some don’t know how to act.”
“It’s been a bad week in America.” He noted the two additional incidents of hate speech on campus last week, the pipe bombs that were mailed across the country, and the fatal shooting of two people in Louisville that were believed to be racially motivated.
As a response to this violence, Cohen has helped organized a public vigil this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Stewart Plaza. Rain location is Meharry Hall.
The motto, he said, is: “We mourn tonight and stand tomorrow.”
Cohen has faced challenges within the DePauw community that threaten not only him, but DePauw students as well. As adviser of Hillel, Cohen is in touch with the Jewish student body and privy to their shared hardships. Cohen explained that “this is a brutal place to be a Jew. It’s hard to see some of these kids’ faces when the faculty are insensitive to their religion.” He recalled that when a student recently asked to be excused from class in observance of a religious holiday, the faculty member asked the student to “prove” that they were Jewish.
Senior Austin Bodner said that Cohen is “a kind and helpful facilitator during spiritual services for the Jewish community.” Bodner, who is Jewish, said Cohen is always there for support.
Cohen, who is also a professor of sports psychology, finds identity as a member of the Jewish community at DePauw, but his identity as a member of the larger Greencastle community is important to him, too. He has been president of the Greencastle City Council for 10 years. “You’ve got to get out of the DePauw bubble, nothing is worse than being stuck in it and having no outside life.”
Cohen also helps students out in a mentoring role, giving career advice and assistance in school. Senior Harry Bell attests to Cohen’s level of care as he explained that “from a support standpoint he has your back 100 percent. He cares a lot about the students in the face of adversity.”
Looking forward, Cohen doesn’t see himself leaving DePauw or Greencastle anytime soon. He explained that this is his home. “I’ve made a life that I enjoy in not only at DePauw, but in Greencastle.”
He sees Thursday’s vigil as an opportunity to build community. He wants each person who attends to introduce themselves to one person they don’t know. “To start to break down stereotypes, why not start with a ‘hello?’ Get to know someone you don’t know.”