Brianne Becker

Dr. Brianna Becker

Photo courtesy of: Hillel at Ohio University

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Dr. Brianna Becker begins first year as director of Hillel at Ohio University


Dr. Brianna “Bree” Becker, who began her duties as the new director of Jewish life at Hillel at Ohio University in July, said she is excited about working closely with the University to better serve the local Jewish community.

According to its website, Hillel at Ohio University was created to serve the needs of the Jewish community in both the University and Athens communities. Through Hillel, Jewish students learn valuable leadership skills, enhance their Jewish identity and diversify the religious and cultural campus community.

Dr. Becker, a Richmond, Maine, native, came to Athens after earning her Ph.D. in higher, adult, and lifelong education and her master’s degree in student affairs administration from Michigan State University. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Jewish studies with a minor in Holocaust studies from Scripps College in Claremont, California.

She said her new position allows her to combine her expertise in both student affairs and Jewish studies.

“I wanted this job because it’s a natural marriage between the academic degrees that I have,” Dr. Becker said. “I spent my first five years working jobs related to my bachelor degree, then I went back to graduate school and moved into student affairs. I've spent the past eight or nine years working in that field.”

During her career, Dr. Becker has held numerous professional positions. A few of the positions she has served in are:

  • Fellowship coordinator/graduate assistant in the Office of International Studies in Education, and an assistant hall director at Michigan State University
  • On-site director for the Duke University Talent Identification Program
  • Dean of residential life at Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth
  • Registrar for Young Judaea Year Course in New York
  • Travel coordinator for ARZA World in New York

While at Michigan State University, Dr. Becker also served as a research associate for the National Study of LGBTQ Student Success and as a research assistant at the Cognitive Development Lab.

Dr. Becker said that when she recently started exploring job opportunities, she was looking at both secular and Hillel jobs.

“During my doctoral research, I realized that Jewish students were looking at Hillel as a major mitigating factor in both shielding them from Christian privilege and advocating for them,” Dr. Becker said. “Some students were taking the brunt of the force of those problems, which re-sparked my interest in working with Hillel. This job seems to be the logical end point between my experiences. This is the right fit.”

Dr. Becker said Athens feels familiar to her after growing up in rural Maine. Although she has spent several years living in major metropolitan cities like New York and Los Angeles, she said she still enjoys living in a small town.

“Coming to Athens felt like coming home because there isn't a big Jewish community or a big multi-synagogue community like there was in Los Angeles, New York or Michigan,” Dr. Becker said.

She said that culturally this part of Appalachia is not that different than where she grew up in Maine.

“A lot of the same questions about what plays out in rural places is the same,” Dr. Becker said. “I really liked Athens when I visited. I liked the students I met, the Hillel board members and the Jewish community. We are all interested in having a really vibrant Jewish life.”

Dr. Becker said she had never been to Athens, Ohio, until she visited for her interview in April.

“I had been to West Virginia and Columbus, but never Athens,” she said. “I love it so far and I’m excited to be here.”

Ohio University Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Fred Weiner, a longtime member of Hillel, said Becker was an attractive candidate because she has an extensive background in student affairs, including working in residence life and study abroad programs.

"Bree also was an great hire because she grew up in a very small town where there were very few if any other Jewish kids and as a result had to deal with many of the same issues that our Jewish students have to deal with as a distinct minority on campus,” Weiner said. 

Dr. Becker said that although she is not a rabbi like some of Hillel’s previous directors, it won’t stop her from doing her job. 

“In Judaism, lay people can do almost anything a rabbi can do,” Dr. Becker said. “Former Hillel director Rabbi Danielle Leshaw may continue to return for certain big holidays or events. We also have the option of hiring students from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Many ritual services don't need a rabbi, so I'll do most of those.”

Senior choral music education major Rhys Ivan, who is also Hillel’s music intern, said Dr. Becker has been a great addition to Hillel.

“I’m incredibly excited to be working under Bree’s leadership this semester,” Ivan said. “The amount of enthusiasm and dedication that she’s already bringing to the job will serve our Hillel incredibly well as we continue to work at fostering a sense of community and inclusion among Jewish students here at Ohio University. She’s already shown a great deal of love for this community and it’s really exciting to see people embrace her with open arms.”

Dr. Becker said that she believes there are about 400 to 500 Jewish students at Ohio University. She said there is no way to know for sure because, while some of them reach out to Hillel when they arrive on campus to get information about services and activities, many of them do not.

Dr. Becker said unfortunately not all Jewish students participate in Hillel, but between 50 to 100 of them show up for Shabbat dinners and she figures the occasional cookouts will attract around 150 students.

As far as changes, Dr. Becker said she plans to make some, but said she is excited about keeping some of the current programming that has been successful like the Got Swabbed program for bone marrow transplants.

“Got Swabbed has allowed us to engage the whole community in this program,” Dr. Becker said. “I’m really excited about keeping it because it encourages everyone to enroll themselves as a potential bone marrow donor.”

Thanks in large part to Hillel, Ohio University leads the nation in campus bone marrow drives and has received the largest number of swabs from 18- to 26-year-olds in the nation. According to its website, as of August 2015, Hillel’s efforts on campus have led to more than 200 students being identified as possible matches for people with leukemia, and approximately 30 students have saved lives by donating their marrow.

Dr. Becker said a few of the new things she might implement are:

  • Hosting non-traditional Jewish services. She said that could be something like a yoga Shabbat. “I want our students to find out who they want to be as Jewish adults, rather than making them into any particular kind of Jew,” Dr. Becker said.
  • Increasing interfaith work where Hillel hosts events with people of other religions and faiths.
  • Partnering with the University on Jewish-themed study abroad opportunities that Hillel can design. “I have a background in taking students abroad,” Dr. Becker said. “I've taken students to France and Belgium in the past.”

 

“I’m asking myself how I can put my stamp on the University, while meeting its needs,” Dr. Becker said. “I would like to teach classes at the University. I also look forward to partnering more with Student Affairs and the University.”

Hillel’s religious services start at 6 p.m. every Friday. There are also Shabbat dinners on certain Fridays. For more information about Hillel at Ohio University, visit http://www.ohiohillel.org/.