UVM settles federal antisemitism complaint
The University of Vermont and the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday a settlement of a complaint the school failed to respond adequately to antisemitic harassment of Jewish students at the Burlington school.
In a news release announcing the settlement, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights said the university's Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Office declined to investigate complaints, even though the university had been notified of what were described as serious allegations of harassment.
The original complaints included allegations that a teaching assistant posted on social media about not giving Jewish students course participation credit; subtracting points for Jewish students; and celebrating the theft of an Israeli flag from a Jewish student's residence.
The complaints also said that Jewish students were excluded from student organizations, that students threw rocks at the building housing Jewish students, and when a student living in the building asked them to stop, one of the students responded, "Are you Jewish?"
"Everyone has a right to learn in an environment free from antisemitic harassment," Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a statement announcing the agreement. "We will be watching to be sure these students are safe."
In its statement announcing the agreement, the university said it condemns and will not tolerate antisemitism in any form.
"It is UVM's responsibility to provide equal opportunity to all members of its community to fully express their identity in an environment free from discrimination and harassment," the university said.
Alyza Lewin, the president of the the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, who helped file the complaint that was investigated by the department, said Monday that the agreement was a significant milestone in the effort to protect Jewish students from antisemitic harassment. But she will be waiting to see how the changes required by the settlement are implemented.
"This is just the first step, right? The devil is in the details," she said. "And you know, we've yet to see whether the university will do more than just maybe, you know, say the right thing."
She said the Office for Civil Rights would have to monitor the agreement and ensure the university lives up to its commitment.
The allegations of antisemitism at the university came after antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached a record high in 2021. Last year the Anti-Defamation League counted 2,717 antisemitic incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism in 2021, a 34% increase over the previous year and the highest number since the New York City-based group began tracking such incidents in 1979.
As part of the agreement, the university agreed to a variety of steps, including that the school would revise its policies to ensure that the university's response to discrimination is consistent with federal law. The school will also train leadership, staff and students on the prohibition of harassment based on national ancestry.
The university said its voluntary resolution of the investigation reflects numerous conversations with the Jewish community on campus and local and national voices on "the consequential and complex issue of antisemitism."
The university statement also said that if members of the campus community experience hostile behavior, the school will use "all tools at its disposal to eliminate the hostile behavior and enable each member of the community to learn and work in an environment unfettered by discrimination and harassment."