(Washington D.C, January 12, 2023) – On January 12, 2023, StandWithUs filed a complaint alleging a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging a pervasive, hostile, and discriminatory environment for Jewish and Israeli students within the Professional Psychology Program (“Program”) at George Washington University (”George Washington”). The complaint identifies a pattern of persistent, discriminatory, and retaliatory antisemitic acts targeting Jewish and Israeli students and thus denying them the right to an equal educational opportunity and treatment on the basis of their identities by Professor Lara Sheehi, a facilitator of the Program’s mandatory diversity course. During the Fall 2022 semester, Sheehi repeatedly targeted Jewish and Israeli students in the Program’s diversity course, disparaging and attacking their Jewish and Israeli identities and encouraging others in the Program to do the same. In one instance, Sheehi invited and supported a guest lecturer who invoked age-old antisemitic tropes about Jews being dishonest and using their influence for nefarious purposes. The lecturer also expressed support for violence against Israeli civilians. When the students raised concerns about the antisemitic harassment they were experiencing, Sheehi denied that what the students had experienced was antisemitism and distorted the Jewish students’ comments to accuse the Jewish students of attacking other identity groups. Sheehi did not treat members of any other identity group in this fashion; only Jewish and Israeli students were treated in a discriminatory manner and deprived of the opportunity to define their own identity.
When the Jewish students brought Sheehi’s disparaging and differential treatment of Jewish and Israeli students in her classroom to the attention of university administrators, Sheehi retaliated against the most vocal students by slandering their reputations to other faculty members in the department and subjecting the students to baseless disciplinary proceedings. The university took no steps to protect the students and their reputations from retaliation by the professor. Instead, the university enabled the retaliatory punitive proceedings to proceed, without any investigation into their merit. “A professor singling out and targeting Jewish and Israeli students for adverse treatment because of their identity is textbook antisemitic discriminatory conduct,” said Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder. “George Washington University has failed to provide adequate protection for the Jewish and Israeli students seeking redress from Professor Sheehi’s persistent antisemitic bigotry in and out of the classroom. Instead, George Washington administrators disregarded the students' allegations and enabled a professor to retaliate against those students after they sought the administration’s help in fighting discrimination. In doing so, the university has violated its obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and indicated that it permits institutionalized antisemitism against its Jewish and Israeli students,” said Yael Lerman, founding director of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department.
The StandWithUs complaint outlines the following measures that George Washington must undertake to remedy this egregious bigotry and negligence: ● Reverse all punitive and retaliatory measures taken against the Jewish students who expressed concern about a hostile educational environment created and fostered by Sheehi; ● Offer those students an alternative professor or accommodation to fulfill program requirements that take them out of Sheehi’s orbit and influence; ● Open a full and immediate investigation into all student complaints about antisemitism by Sheehi, and take all appropriate remedial action; ● Institute mandatory bias and sensitivity training for all students, faculty, and staff in the Program; and ● Adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and require that members of the Program utilize it when evaluating claims of antisemitism both in and out of the classroom. “The hostile environment at the George Washington Professional Psychology Program and the failure of the administration to act to correct it are unacceptable. Too often, when Jewish students raise concerns about antisemitism, they are subjected to gaslighting or false claims meant to cause self-doubt and deflect the bigotry at play,” said Carly Gammill, founding director of the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism. “Jewish and Israeli students deserve the same level of respect and consideration as all other minority groups when they report cases of bigotry and discrimination.” StandWithUs is proud to support the courageous students who have spoken out about the antisemitic treatment they have endured. By holding those at George Washington and its Professional Psychology Program accountable, we hope the school reaffirms its commitment to guaranteeing all students an environment free from discrimination, retaliation, and bigoted attacks based on their identity. The complaint was filed by the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department and StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, divisions of StandWithUs, an international non-profit organization with the dual mission of educating about Israel and fighting antisemitism. Click here to read the complaint letter. Click here to learn more about Title VI. Click here to read background about this case.
StandWithUs (SWU) is an international, non-profit and non-partisan Israel education organization that works to inspire and educate people of all ages about Israel, as well as challenge misinformation and fight against antisemitism.
Through university fellowships, high school internships, middle school curricula, conferences, materials, social media, educational films and missions to Israel, StandWithUs supports people around the world who want to educate their schools and communities about Israel.
Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Los Angeles, the organization has chapters and programs throughout the U.S., in Israel, the UK, Canada, South Africa, Brazil and the Netherlands.
For the last eleven years, SWU has consistently received the highest possible ratings from Charity Navigator and Guidestar, two charity watchdog groups that assess hundreds of thousands of charities in the United States.