The U.S. Department of Education is investigating allegations of antisemitism at the University of Vermont, including that some Jewish students were excluded from campus clubs and a teaching assistant threatened to reduce the grades of students who support the state of Israel.
The complaint filed by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law alleges that UVM has allowed a hostile environment to exist on campus in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The complaint, which was filed last year but acted upon by the Department of Education last month, says Jewish students have expressed fear about identifying publicly as Jewish, they hide their Jewish identity and some have considered transferring from UVM due to the hostile environment.
Jewish students are being pressured to disavow their sense of being Jewish if they want to engage on issues like LGBTQ, women's or immigration rights, or climate change, said Alyza Lewin, the president of the Brandeis Center.
“It can’t be that today, the only community that’s not welcomed to bring their full identity to the table are the Jews," she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And that’s what’s happening now at the University of Vermont, is that they’re saying to everyone, ‘we welcome you to our table with your full identity, except the Jews.'"
In a statement, UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera said they were aware of the investigation by the Office of Civil Rights and they are looking forward to providing the agency with a full response to the underlying allegations, which were reported to the university in 2021 and investigated by campus officials.
“UVM seeks to foster a culture of inclusiveness for all students, faculty, and staff, including members of our Jewish community, and does not tolerate acts of bias or discrimination related to religion, race, culture, gender, or sexual orientation on our campus,"' the statement said.
The allegations of anti-Semitism at UVM come after antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached a record high last year. Earlier this 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.
The UVM complaint says that in the spring of 2021 a campus sexual assault group called UVM Empowering Survivors, which had more than 4,000 followers, announced on a social media page that Zionist students were no longer welcome in the group and would be “blocked.”
Zionists consider Israel the homeland for Jewish people.
When Jewish students reached out to the group to discuss the matter, they were rebuffed. The group added “we will not (be) engaging in conversation about… Zionism," the complaint says.
The complaint also alleges the teaching assistant, whose name was blacked out in the complaint, posted on social media threats to reduce the grades of UVM's Jewish Zionist students.
“is it unethical for me, a TA, to not give zionists credit for participation??? i feel like its good and funny,"' said the grammatically incorrect message from April 5, 2021, that was reproduced in the complaint.