Complaint filed with Dept. of Education over antisemitism at US university

The students filed the complaint with the assistance of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP alongside the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, in collaboration with the JNF and Hillel.

Hallene Gateway at the University of Illinois (photo credit: PWOJDACZ/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Hallene Gateway at the University of Illinois
(photo credit: PWOJDACZ/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Students at the University of Illinois filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in which they claim the school has fostered an environment which has allowed antisemitism to spread rapidly across campus over the past five years.
The document cites Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in its argument, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin within educational institutions that receive federal funding.  
The complaint, filed by Jewish students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), states that campus based Jewish and pro-Israel groups - including fraternities - have been targeted by antisemitic graffiti and vandalism, noting that the university has not done enough to put a stop to this type of hateful focus.
Examples that were given in the complaint include an instance where the window of a Jewish fraternity was smashed in with a brick, the discoveries of numerous graffiti swastikas spread around school campus, as well as occurrences where menorahs and mezuzahs have been vandalized.
The complaint also alleges that Students for Justice in Palestine "glorify" members of US government designated terror groups, harass Jewish and pro-Israel students with antisemitic rhetoric and turned the university's mandated diversity training into an "anti-Israel indoctrination."
The students filed the complaint with the assistance of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP alongside the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, in collaboration with the Jewish United Fund and Hillel International.
“Hillel has been working for years to support Jewish and pro-Israel UIUC students cope with serious challenges on their campus. Sadly, too many of them actually fear for their safety, and some have been warned to refrain from openly wearing Jewish symbols while walking around campus,” said Hillel International’s Vice President of University Initiatives and Legal Affairs Mark Rotenberg.
“Jewish students at UIUC have been targeted for years,” added President of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law Alyza D. Lewin.
“We gave UIUC seven months since the complaint was filed to address the ongoing harassment. In the face of continuous stall tactics and almost no action from the university, we decided to publicize our efforts. We hope public awareness of this dire situation will prompt the university to finally acknowledge and address the egregious antisemitic harassment it has swept under the rug for far too long,” she added.
Title VI states that educational institutions receiving federal funding are responsible for fostering a docile and accepting environment on campus, and when faced with instances of racism, discrimination or antisemitism, must take prompt and meaningful steps to put an end to the hostilities - or risk losing federal funding.
Just recently, it was clarified in Executive Order 13899, that Title VI is to be enforced “against prohibited forms of discrimination rooted in antisemitism as vigorously as against all other forms of discrimination prohibited by Title VI.”
The complaint alleges that despite the repeated warnings of rising antisemitism and a developing hostile environment across campus, the administration failed to take the necessary steps to provide students with an educational setting free of hate and discrimination - noting that this contradicts the recent measures the school has taken to combat discrimination or harassment aimed at other targeted groups.
“Being a Jew at UIUC comes with immense hate and hostility,” said Ian Katsnelson, a UIUC student, who is currently majoring in Biology and Political Science.
“First, as a senator on student government I’ve experienced shocking examples of antisemitism firsthand. I’ve been called a genocide supporter, a white supremacist, and harassed; all for being publicly Jewish. And all of this in front of the administration—who did nothing. Second, as a student, I’ve seen the effect that the hostility has on my friends—they’re afraid to wear Jewish stars, Hebrew writing, or even Jewish Greek letters. This is my third year at U of I and I can tell you... it’s exhausting.”
The complaint also states that some university employees have also been complicit in developing the hostile setting. One example given claims that peer advisors attempted to declare Zionism as a form of racism across campus, another where the vice chancellor of the school openly admitted to removing a student from the UIUC Campus Student Elections Commission because "she's Jewish."
“Once I became a leader in the pro-Israel Jewish community on campus, I was immediately targeted," explained, Lauren Nesher, a UIUC student majoring in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences. "I was even publicly singled out by a professor on social media.  While there are faculty who are supportive, it can be really hard to be publicly Jewish. I constantly worry about how people will react when they find out I’m Jewish or that I support Israel.”
“Since it’s common for the perpetrators of the antisemitism on campus to attempt to hide behind the First Amendment, it’s critical we be perfectly clear,” Lewin continued. “The purpose of this complaint is not to ‘shut down’ anyone’s speech. To the contrary, its goal is to protect Jewish pro-Israel students at UIUC who are being discriminated against, harassed and excluded on the basis of their identity, behaviors not protected under the First Amendment, and to ensure that they can participate in campus life on an equal basis with other students.
"Antisemitism has plagued UIUC for years. Despite being put on notice by students, and years of advocacy by JUF, Hillel, and the Brandeis Center, UIUC’s administration failed to adequately address the problem, making it necessary to file this civil rights complaint and make it public now.”


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