The Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation on University of Vermont (UVM) for their repeated failure to address the rampant issues of antisemitism on their campus. Jewish on Campus and the Louis D. Brandeis Center filed a Title VI complaint detailing the ongoing antisemitic intimidation, harassment, and exclusion of Jewish students at UVM.
While, according to UVM students, the administration admitted there was discrimination, the school refused to address it, claiming it wasn’t what the Jewish community wanted—in spite of repeated calls for action from the Jewish community on campus. Students made various requests for the Division of DEI to collaborate with the Jewish community or come up with their own plan to solve the antisemitism problem on campus, but the students were denied support.
“The administration isn’t here to help us,” a junior said.
Attempts to collaborate with the administration were met with apathy and even mockery, according to students. Eventually, many students stopped reporting incidents of antisemitism to the university, believing that it was a wasted effort. The administration’s dismissal of these issues has allowed the problem to proliferate, creating an unsafe atmosphere for Jewish UVM students on campus.
“And now in 2022, the antisemitism is just as bad, if not worse,” a senior at UVM said, “I’m anxious to show my Jewish pride on campus.”
While antisemitism has been a longstanding issue at UVM, it has become increasingly dangerous over the past two years. A teaching assistant at the university—who posted on Twitter that she gets a “serotonin rush of bullying Zionists on the public domain”—threatened to lower the grades of Jewish Zionists and encouraged other students to cyberbully Jewish students, fostering a hostile climate on campus that encouraged others on campus to similarly target and harass Jewish Zionists.
In spring 2021, UVM students opened the Instagram account “ShareYourStoryUVM” to empower survivors of sexual assault and create a sense of community. They quickly adopted a policy to block Zionists and began refusing interaction with Jews who tried to reach out to them about this demonizing policy. Afterward, a book club on campus, UVM Revolutionary Socialist Union, adopted a similar “no Zionists” policy, likening Zionists to racists and predators and perpetuating an environment where Jews are excluded on the basis of their identity.
This form of exclusion echoes antisemitism which, throughout history, has denied Jews access to careers, schools, and communities. Now, the same conspiracy alleges that it is not Jews that they exclude, only Zionists. This rebranding provides a litmus test: reject Zionism or be rejected.
Surrounded by antisemitic sentiment, students turned to Jewish organizations for support.
“Hillel was definitely a place where people could escape judgment that was going on outside the Jewish community,” a student said.
In fall 2021, a group of students pelted a Hillel building window with small rocks for half an hour in an effort to annoy and harass the Jewish students in the building. When a student in the building told them to stop, one of the vandals responded by asking “are you Jewish?”
Jewish students took these concerns to the head of the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the university provost, but were ultimately declined action and told to bring the issue to their religious campus representatives instead. Not only did they dismiss an issue of discrimination on campus, but the administration signaled that antisemitism is relegated to solely religious discrimination, ignoring the multifaceted nature of the anti-Jewish hatred: an attack on religious, ethnic, and cultural identity.
“She was super indifferent,” a student said after meeting with a university administrator, “She didn’t want to be there; she didn’t really consider it an actual problem.”
Jewish on Campus has a responsibility to share the stories of UVM students and advocate for decisive action against antisemitism on their campus. The University of Vermont must not allow its students to express unabashed antisemitism on campus.