Jewish group claims UVM students discriminated against over support for Israel

Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 5:29 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating allegations of discrimination against Jewish students at the University of Vermont.

The investigation began after a complaint was filed by the Louis D. Brandeis Center, a national Jewish civil rights nonprofit. They compiled Jewish students’ complaints that they were being excluded from groups and were being discriminated against based on their support of Israel.

“We’ve had serious incidents happen to us that we’ve reported to the university administration and then the administration hasn’t addressed those incidents,” said Avi Zatz, a former UVM student who transferred to the University of Florida after he says he experienced a culture of antisemitism at UVM.

Zatz says he was part of a group of students who took the complaints to the administration but that they were not taken seriously. “To this day, the university still has not condemned antisemitism despite the story being out now and it’s just really frustrating that they have this opportunity to create change and work with us and we are really willing, we really want to, but it’s just not happening,” Zatz said.

The Brandeis Center says in their complaint that Jewish students are being excluded from university clubs and support groups, specifically mentioning a sexual assault support group that openly stated on its Instagram page that Zionist students were not welcome within the group. Zionism is a movement that supports the creation and preservation of the Jewish state of Israel. A student-led book club also posted that Jewish Zionists were not welcome.

“We’re not talking here about speech, we are talking here about conduct. We are talking about groups that are actually excluding Jewish students, that are saying, ‘You are not welcome in our group, you need to be excluded.’ That’s conduct, not speech,” said Alyza Lewin, the center’s president

The complaint also shows examples of a University teaching assistant writing on social media that she had threatened to lower grades of Jewish students who identify with Zionism as part of their identity.

“It can’t be that the only group that’s not welcome to bring their full identity to the table are the Jews, and if the University of Vermont wants to make sure that it is really a true welcoming and safe environment for all students, then it has to make sure the Jewish students are also welcome to the table with their full identity,” Lewin said.

University of Vermont officials say neither of the clubs is recognized as a student organization. They issued a statement saying, “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 school also says it will cooperate with the investigation and that all of the allegations were investigated by campus officials.