The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on Monday resolved investigation of a complaint regarding the University of Vermont and State Agricultural College’s failure to respond to antisemitic harassment.
OCR identified concerns over the university’s response to complaints it received of antisemitic harassment. First, the university’s Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity (AAEO) Office declined to investigate any of the complaints, even though they notified the university regarding serious allegations of harassment. Second, responsive steps the university did take were delayed; were not designed to rectify concerns communicated to the university, including regarding the existence of a hostile environment; and may have discouraged students and staff from raising further concerns with the university or with participating in the OCR investigation.
“I am grateful for the University of Vermont’s commitment to address antisemitic harassment that violates federal civil rights law,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “Everyone has a right to learn in an environment free from antisemitic harassment. We will be watching to be sure these students are safe.”
The complaints about which the university received notice, but did not investigate through its AAEO Office, included allegations that a teaching assistant posted on social media about not giving Jewish students course participation credit; subtracting points for Jewish students, including because “I hate ur vibe in general”; celebrating the theft of an Israeli flag from a Jewish student’s residence; and adding the word, “Kristallnacht,” above a picture of a damaged storefront with accompanying Hebrew text.
They also included allegations that student groups excluded Jewish students, that students threw rocks at the building housing Hillel and student dormitory space, and that when a student living in the building asked them to stop, one of the students responded, “Are you Jewish?”
To ensure full satisfaction of its obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations, the university entered into a resolution agreement committing it to:
- Review and revise its policies and procedures to include a description of forms of discrimination that can manifest in the university environment, and to ensure that the university’s response to notice of discrimination including national origin harassment on the basis of shared ancestry is consistent with Title VI.
- Develop a protocol clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the AAEO Office and Bias Response Team to monitor implementation of the protocol by the provost;
- Train university staff responsible for investigation of Title VI complaints.
- Train university senior leadership, all other staff, and students on the Title VI prohibition against harassment based on national origin, including shared ancestry, in the university’s programs and activities.
- Issue a statement with a commitment to address discrimination based on shared ancestry, including antisemitism, within 30 days of the signing of the agreement and again with its annual antidiscrimination statement.
- Review the university’s 2022 Climate Survey results to determine if other actions, beyond those memorialized in the agreement, are needed to improve the campus climate. And,
- Submit to OCR during the monitoring of the agreement copies of case files of complaints of antisemitism filed during the preceding academic year.