Betsy Polk wins Inclusive Excellence Award

Polk, director of Jewish Life, was recognized for her work to bring Hillel International's Campus Climate Initiative to Elon.

Betsy Polk, Elon’s director of Jewish Life and acting associate chaplain, has been awarded the Inclusive Excellence Award as part of Elon’s annual Division of Student Life Awards.

Polk, who has served as director of Jewish Life since 2017, was recognized for spearheading Elon University’s participation in Hillel International’s Campus Climate Initiative (CCI), a partnership between Hillel and administrators at a select group of colleges and universities that seeks to address antisemitism on campus.

“The individual recipient of the Inclusive Excellence Award is a professional who is described by their nominator as ‘student-centered, an active listener and an advocate for a positive student experience.’ This professional works to create an environment where a student’s faith can be expressed openly and integrated into all aspects of their Elon experience,” said Jodean Schmiederer, dean of Student Development at the award ceremony. “They model this open exploration between and among students, faculty, and staff to ensure they are doing everything possible to nurture authentic interactions.”

Polk has worked closely with a team of senior university leaders to look closely at the experience of Jewish individuals on campus, bringing in experts from Hillel International and collaborating with student Maqueline Weiss ’22 to hold two pilot seminars to introduce students to antisemitism education.

“I was honored when Betsy asked me to partner with her for this project,” said Weiss. “I feel that we cannot let history repeat itself and we cannot remain silent to the rising tide of antisemitism worldwide. As an Elon Hillel leader and graduating senior, I had hoped to leave a legacy, and I’m glad I was able to have impact through this important project that benefits Elon, a place I call home.”

Jewish Life at Elon is experiencing robust growth, and the Jewish student population, according to internal records, is close to 13% of the undergraduate population. More than half of those students have connected with the Hillel community and participated in 112 events and 940 individual interactions over the course of the 2021-22 academic year.

Elon Hillel serves the Jewish students on campus through innovative and engaging programming designed to make connections to Jewish identity and build community among Jewish students.

Elon Hillel is affiliated with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life (known as Hillel International). Hillel International is on 550 campuses throughout the United States and is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world and works with thousands of college students globally. Its mission is “enriching the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world.”

The Student Life awards annually honors staff members, departments and committees/work groups for their achievements and contributions. The division celebrates their leadership, contributions and successes. There is one professional and department recipient for four of the awards and three individual recipients for the additional three awards. Staff members and departments can be nominated by anyone in the division, and the recipients are selected by a panel of previous recipients and the Division of Student Life leadership team.