A complaint filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) alleges that Stanford University’s diversity program “has created and fostered a hostile and unwelcoming environment for Jews.”
The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law announced on June 15 that they are among those representing Dr. Ronald Albucher and Sheila Levin, both of whom are Jewish employees at Stanford’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) division. According to the complaint, which was obtained by the Journal, CAPS employees were required to attend weekly meetings starting in January 2020 as part of the division’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program.
The program “created racially segregated affinity groups” between white individuals and people of color; no such group was created for Jewish employees. Levin didn’t want to join the white group because she does not view herself as having a “white identity,” yet her colleagues continuously pressured her to join the white group. When she filed a complaint to a redacted individual, she was told nothing could be done about it.
In February 2020, Albucher’s colleagues accused him of having “inherent privilege” and “co-opting the [DEI] meeting” because he hadn’t read Robin Diangelo’s book “White Fragility,” which the DEI program encouraged employees to read. He too filed a complaint that was not acted upon.
The complaint then addresses a May 16, 2020 virtual town hall for Stanford’s student government candidates that was interrupted, or “Zoombombed,” with swastikas and the “N-word.” In a DEI seminar addressing the matter a few days later, DEI members frequently raised concerns over the racist content of the Zoombombing, but not the antisemitism associated with the swastikas. When Albucher pointed out the disparity, DEI members accused him “of trying to derail the agenda’s focus on anti-Black racism” and that “unlike other minority groups, Jews can hide behind their white identity.”
Albucher was subsequently accused of being a racist after countering claims from other DEI members that Jews “possess privilege and power” and therefore do not warrant the DEI’s attention. Both Albucher and Levin, who also attended the meeting, told the university that they didn’t feel safe attending such seminars; the university did nothing about it, according to the complaint. Similarly, a July 2020 incident in which Stanford’s Memorial Church was vandalized with swastika graffiti was ignored altogether by the DEI, the complaint alleges.
Additionally, the complaint focuses on a January 8 event informing pre-doctoral students about CAPS internships and training programs; that event allegedly featured DEI members overseeing a “social justice training rotation” where they discussed “how Jews are connected to white supremacy and will address antisemitism.” The DEI committee leader urged participants to read an anti-Zionist book that “portrays the Jewish State of Israel as a racist endeavor,” according to the complaint.
The university’s failure to act on Albucher and Levin’s concerns constitutes a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination, the complaint alleges, arguing that the university allowed a climate of antisemitism to “fester” on campus for more than a year. And while the university stated in May that they would look into Albucher’s concerns, the complaint accuses the university of doing so only to protect themselves after the Department of Education informed them in March that a complaint had been filed against the university.
“The DEI program advanced the stereotype that Jews, including Ms. Levin and Dr. Albucher, are ‘white’ or ‘white passing,’ and invoked the classic antisemitic trope that Jews are powerful, wealthy and privileged,” the complaint alleges. “By promoting this antisemitic narrative about Jews, denying and attempting to erase Jewish ancestral identity, and silencing any mention of antisemitism, the DEI program has fostered hostility toward Jews and delegitimized Jewish identity and experience.”
Alyza D. Lewin, president of the Brandeis Center, told the Journal in a phone interview, “If this is how you’re training your staff that provides mental health services, what happens when you have students on campus who experience antisemitism and who require support to deal with that? If you’ve trained your therapists to ignore or to dismiss antisemitism, then what’s going to happen? Will they be able to recognize or provide adequate care for the students who are experiencing antisemitism?”
Lewin added that recently there were students on campus who were allegedly told by classmates, “I’m not going to talk you, Nazi” and “don’t talk to me if you’re Jewish.” The training of university therapists to “understand” the “type of marginalization” faced by Jews is “the broader problem,” she said.
Lewin also said that she has seen evidence suggesting that the issues with Stanford’s DEI program are “not unique to Stanford,” though she didn’t have any specific information about DEI programs at other universities.
The complaint calls for the university to issue a statement denouncing antisemitism that includes “efforts to demonize and exclude members of the Stanford community on the basis of their Jewish identity” and that will endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. It also calls for the DEI program to be revamped to include training “devoted to defining, understanding and combatting antisemitism.”
A university spokesperson told the Journal, “We are deeply committed to nurturing a diverse and inclusive work environment, one free from harassment and discrimination of any kind. We value and respect the dignity of every member of our community.”
Dee Mostofi, Stanford University’s Assistant Vice President of University Media Relations and Communications, also said in a statement to the Journal, “Traditionally, DEI programs at Stanford have been managed by individual units. As part of our long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, we are launching a centralized DEI learning program this summer and fall aimed at recognizing and addressing bias and discrimination. The program is designed to build awareness, further establish inclusive behaviors, and foster a more inclusive mindset.”