The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation into allegations that Jewish students at the University of Vermont are subjected to “severe and persistent, antisemitic harassment”.
The complaint was filed with the department last October by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law after students said UVM administrators failed to act on their concerns.
Alyza Lewin, president of the Brandeis Center, said the complaint alleges multiple instances in which Jewish students are marginalized and excluded from student organizations. The complaint accuses a campus sexual assault victims support group of excluding Jewish students, and it alleges a UVM teaching assistant mocked “Zionist” students on Twitter.
“The climate has become such that it is acceptable to target and marginalize and exclude Jewish students on the basis of this part of their identity, and that’s just unacceptable,” said Lewin.
The complaint noted antisemitism on campus has existed for years, but intensified in 2020 and 2021. “So as a result, students are terrified, students are afraid to identify as Jewish, they’re afraid for people to know,” said Lewin.
In a statement, school officials said “UVM seeks to foster a culture of inclusiveness for all students including members of our Jewish community and does not tolerate acts of bias or discrimination.”
Avi Zatz, a former UVM student who said he left the school because of the antisemitic culture, said students met with school officials to no avail. “We met with the administration to talk to them about antisemitism, and to try to get them to address the incidents, to condemn antisemitism to students, and to work with us in combating antisemitism,” Zatz said. “But none of those three things ended up happening.” Zatz says UVM “rejected” students who asked the administration to create programs on antisemitism. “I knew that if something were to happen to me, that I wouldn’t be supported, and that if I tried to reach out for help, I would be made fun of,” Zatz said.
Lewin said civil right investigations about alleged discrimination can take years. They usually result in a resolution and an agreement that the university will modify its anti-discrimination policies.
“If they don’t take adequate steps,” she said, “they are at risk for losing their federal government funding.”