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Ohio State faces Anti-Defamation League complaint alleging 'failure' to address antisemitism

By Sheridan Hendrix | The Columbus Dispatch | April 9, 2024

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Three Jewish defense organizations filed a formal complaint Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights against Ohio State University, alleging the school "failed to address the severe discrimination and harassment of Jewish and Israeli students."

The complaint — filed by StandWithUs, the Anti-Defamation League and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law — alleges that Jewish students at Ohio State have "faced a litany of antisemitic incidents, verbal taunts and threats" as well as "outright physical assault" since the Israel-Hamas War began on Oct. 7, 2023.

The complaint is filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin, including shared ancestry, by universities that receive federal funding.

"Ohio State has never – and will never – tolerate discrimination or harassment of anyone based on their religious beliefs, nationality or identity," university spokesman Ben Johnson said in a statement released in response to the complaint.

"Ohio State is no exception"

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, colleges across the country have been grappling with student protests, acts of violence, discrimination complaints and allegations of Islamophobia and antisemitism on their campuses.

Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, said in a statement that the complaint aims to hold Ohio State accountable for "blatant verbal and physical threats and attacks on Jewish students" that he said often go unaddressed by the administration.

"Since Oct. 7, Jewish students on campuses nationwide have faced unprecedented antisemitic harassment and discrimination," Rothstein said. "Ohio State University is no exception."

Kenneth L. Marcus, chairman of the Brandeis Center and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, said in a statement that schools like Ohio State that "continue to sweep (antisemitic) incidents under the rug are getting worse by the day."

"The problem cannot be ignored," Marcus said. "Schools must uphold the law and address each and every incident of antisemitic discrimination and harassment or the problem will continue to snowball."

The complaint cites a number of incidents involving Ohio State students including:

  • In November, a group of five Jewish student were attacked by two individuals while walking off-campus. One of the students wearing a necklace with a Hebrew letter was called a slur and two students were punched in the face, which broke one's nose and one's jaw.

  • On Dec. 9, a Jewish student wearing a sweatshirt with the words “Am Yisrael Chai” (which translates "the people of Israel live") in the shape of a Jewish star was confronted by another student who used a profanity to tell him to take off the shirt.

  • On Jan. 26, a Jewish student living in off-campus housing found that their mezuzah (a symbol of Jewish identity) had been torn from their doorpost and thrown on the ground.

  • On Feb. 2, Jewish students eating Shabbat dinner at the campus Hillel were interrupted when other students began banging on the windows and shouting “Free Palestine.”

  • On Feb. 23, a Jewish student’s dorm room door was vandalized with graffiti reading “Free Palestine.”

  • On Feb. 15, Jewish students gathering signatures on a petition against antisemitism at the Ohio Union were confronted by a man saying he would not sign because he wants to “kill Jews.” The next day, an individual stole an Israeli flag from the Ohio Union after a multicultural event there, flashed a “white power” sign and harassed Jewish students.

OSU officials push back on allegations

In a letter responding to StandWithUs, Ohio State Senior Vice President of Student Life Melissa Shivers and Associate Vice President for the Office of Institutional Equity Keesha Mitchell condemned Hamas' Oct. 7 attack and pushed back against some of the complaint's allegations.

"Through both our words and, importantly, our actions, we continually reaffirm and communicate messaging focused on our expectations regarding an environment of respect and compassion during this extraordinarily difficult time for many on our campuses," they wrote. "It is very disappointing that your letter to us does not accurately represent what has occurred at Ohio State or the university’s strong and ongoing response... Please be assured the university has both acted and spoken."

Shivers and Mitchell said the university is aware of multiple incidents listed in the complaint "which were reported through university channels, have been and will continue to be addressed by Ohio State as well as law enforcement partners where appropriate." Their letter said, however, that the complaint's timeline of events is inaccurate and that it "mischaracterized" OSU's response to one incident.

The complaint also included "multiple and disturbing examples of incidents which have not been reported to the university," according to OSU's letter, and asked that the groups share more details with them.

On his first day in office, Ohio State President Ted Carter sent a message to the campus community regarding safety, security and civil discourse.

"Let me be clear: Our university is a place at which safety will not be compromised. I am committed to continually exploring ways in which we can enhance the safety and security of our community," Carter wrote.

"We also will remain focused on creating an environment in which respect, civility and compassion are forefront while continuing Ohio State’s long-standing commitment to the First Amendment and upholding the laws of our state and country," he continued. "This has been my expectation over the course of my 40 years in higher education and military service, and it will be my expectation as your president."

What do the complainants want the Department of Education to do?

The complaint asks the Office of Civil Rights to compel Ohio State's administration "to implement a series of measures necessary to secure the safety of Jewish and Israeli students," including issuing a public statement condemning antisemitic hostility on campus, increasing security measures and provide mandatory antisemitism training to university administrators, faculty, students and staff.

It also urges the university to incorporate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism into its campus policies concerning discrimination "to better recognize the types of antisemitic discrimination confronting Jewish students."

Shivers and Mitchell said in their letter that Ohio State already adopted this definition in 2022.

All three organizations have sued other universities and K-12 school districts — either independently, together or with other Jewish defense organizations — since Oct. 7.

In February, the Brandeis Center and Jewish on Campus filed an civil rights complaint on behalf of Jewish students at American University. The Anti-Defamation League and Brandeis Center filed a different complaint in March against the Berkeley Unified School District related to allegations of bullying of Jewish students.

The three organizations, with California-based law firm Gibson Dunn, also launched a call center for college students to report instances of antisemitism on campus.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is also investigating another complaint filed against Ohio State, alleging the school failed to respond to antisemitic incidents on campus. The agency opened its investigation into Ohio State, as well as three other universities and one school district, on Jan. 16 for alleged Title VI complaints.

There are currently more than 100 open DOE Title VI investigations dating back to 2016.

Read full article here.



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