U.S. probe opened into ‘hostile anti-Semitic environment’ at University of Vermont

The US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights opened a formal investigation into allegations of anti-Semitic harassment and discrimination at the University of Vermont, the bureau said Tuesday.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the Jewish on Campus (JOC) group filed a complaint alleging UVM allowed a hostile anti-Semitic environment to develop on campus. The complaint alleges that the university violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs and activities that receive federal funding.

in one answer The university’s president, Suresh Garimella, issued Thursday, accused the complaint of painting the university “in a manifestly wrong light”.

According to the complaint, Jewish students have expressed fear of publicly identifying as Jewish and have considered leaving the school due to the anti-Semitic atmosphere.

The complaint found that in 2021, a UVM teaching assistant (TA) threatened to lower the grades of Jewish Zionist students and repeatedly wrote messages on social media inciting hatred against them. The TA encouraged others to destroy an Israeli flag and to harass and ostracize students who supported Zionism, the complaint said.

Also in 2021, two student groups denied membership to Jewish students for expressing support for Zionism, and the Hillel building on campus was stoned and vandalized for nearly 40 minutes, the complaint said.

UVM Empowering Survivors, a campus sexual assault support group, announced on Instagram in spring 2021 that Zionist students would be “blocked” from the group, the complaint said. The student group added: “If you don’t support Palestinian liberation, you don’t support survivors. we have the same policy with Zionists that we have with those who deceive or harass others: blocked.”

The UVM Revolutionary Socialist Union (RSU), a student book club, made similar statements “Racism, racial chauvinism, predatory behavior, homophobia, transphobia, Zionism or bigotry, and hate speech of any kind will not be tolerated.” The group requires every RSU member to “pledge no to Zionism.”

All of these cases have been reported to the UVM administration, and Jewish students have met with administration officials to share their experiences of being “harassed and harmed by the anti-Semitic environment on campus,” the Brandeis Center and JOC wrote in the complaint, which stated that the university has yet to take action in relation to the incidents.

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“The University of Vermont allows for a hostile environment that marginalizes and excludes Jewish students, for whom Zionism is an integral part of their Jewish identity,” the complaint reads. “In this way, UVM denies Jewish students equal access to educational opportunities and services because of their common ancestry and ethnicity.”

Garimella wrote in his reply: “While common wisdom dictates that we patiently remain silent while we diligently cooperate with an agency’s investigation, I simply cannot. These public allegations and our community’s deeply rooted values ​​require a strong and immediate response.”

He claimed the university has “a proud history of inclusivity” and a “strong and vibrant Jewish community,” calling the allegations “damaging.”

“UVM vigorously denies the false allegation of an inadequate response to complaints of threats and discrimination, as demonstrated in our response to OCR,” continued Garimella.

In a statement released Friday, 20 Jewish organizations issued a joint expression Expressing concern and disappointment at Garimella’s testimony.

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“Put simply, President Garimella fails to condemn the existence of significant anti-Semitism on the UVM campus. And rather than mustering the courage shown by other university leaders across the country to acknowledge the problem or offer support to Jewish students afraid to publicly identify as Jewish, the UVM President’s statement doubles down on refusing to to take responsibility,” they wrote.

The Jewish organizations accused the university of refusing to support an affected community and blaming the student victims.

“We support these Jewish students at UVM and elsewhere who have the right to openly express their identification with Israel without being shunned, marginalized and excluded from campus opportunities,” they wrote. “Every student at UVM is entitled to a study experience free from anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination. It is time for UVM to openly acknowledge the serious concerns that have been raised and take concrete steps to address them.”

A opinion poll of antisemitic incidents in North American colleges in 2021 reported that the University of Vermont had the most with 58 reported cases.

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