Press Release: StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice Files Title VI Complaint Against Middlebury College Detailing Pervasive Antisemitism

(Middlebury, Vermont — February 16, 2024) A federal Title VI complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights unveiled on February 16 details of how Jewish students at Middlebury College, who reported to the administration concerns about a pervasively hostile campus climate for Jews since October 7, 2023, were met with unlawful and disparate treatment by the administration; retaliatory disciplinary proceedings; administrative denial that antisemitism exists; hostility; instructions to Jewish students to downplay and hide symbols associated with their Jewish identity; and outright failure by the administration to enforce their own policies to protect Jews.

The Title VI complaint was filed by StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice (SCLJ), a non-profit membership organization which partners with StandWithUs and has the mission of taking legal action to fight antisemitism.

“October 7th was a living nightmare for Jews all over the world as we witnessed the largest massacre against our community since the Holocaust,” said Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder. “In its aftermath, Jewish students all over the country are enduring an unprecedented level of antisemitic discrimination, which we will not stand for.  Unfortunately, it appears that administrators at Middlebury College are more concerned with denying that the problem exists than with addressing it.”

“Middlebury College has failed egregiously to provide adequate protection for Jewish students seeking to remedy persistent antisemitic bigotry on campus,” said Yael Lerman, Director of the StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice. “Middlebury administrators disregarded student allegations, attempted to silence them, neglected to enforce its own rules, and at times were complicit in discriminating against Jewish students. In doing so, the College has violated its obligations under Title VI and must be held accountable.”

“The hostile environment at Middlebury College and the administration’s failure to act to correct it are unacceptable,” said Carly Gammill, Director of Legal Strategy at the StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice. “Too often, when Jewish students raise concerns about antisemitism, they are subjected to administrators who deflect the bigotry at play. Jewish students deserve the same level of respect, consideration, and lawful response as all other minority groups when they report cases of bigotry and discrimination.”

The Title VI complaint is posted online HERE, in addition to a public petition encouraging Middlebury to act in defense of Jewish students.

Colleges that receive federal funding, like Middlebury College, have a legal obligation to ensure that Jewish students are treated equally to all other students. The Middlebury administration’s actions, as outlined in the complaint, show a total failure to address antisemitism on campus and, at worst, complicity in perpetuating antisemitic discrimination and a pervasively hostile environment for Jewish students.  

Examples from the Title VI Complaint against Middlebury include:

  • Unlawful disparate treatment by administration: Middlebury administrators exhibited differential and discriminatory treatment to Jewish students planning a vigil to honor the victims of Hamas’s October 7th massacre as compared to students in the Muslim Student Association (MSA) planning a vigil for Gaza at a later date. Administrators told Jewish students not to have a police presence, citing concerns about upsetting other students. They pushed Jewish students to have a single public safety officer attend and said that the officer must be out of uniform and out of sight. Jewish students were told to hide references to Israel from the vigil and to remove the word “Jewish” from all literature affiliated with the event. They were only permitted to host the vigil outside. They were also told that administrators would not attend or speak. Middlebury’s Associate Vice President and Dean of Students attempted to change the scope of the Jewish vigil, so that it would not exclusively focus on Israeli or Jewish victims, by instead calling it, “Vigil for Lives Lost,” to be more inclusive.

    In contrast, there is no indication that the MSA faced any such restrictions. MSA’s event, called “Vigil for Palestine,” specifically focused on those killed in Gaza. The vigil enjoyed a visible police presence, including a visible police squad car, took place on campus in an indoor space (the Middlebury Chapel), and Middlebury’s Vice President of Equity and Inclusion attended and honored the event by speaking.

  • Administration refused to enforce university policies to stop SJP’s unlawful harassment of students: During Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) October 12, 2023 “Day of Resistance,” SJP intimidated students in a Middlebury dining hall and blocked the doors to it. Despite receiving reports of this harassment, Middlebury’s administration did not enforce its own policies barring behavior that impedes another student’s ability to communicate or move freely and offered no alternative support to the impacted students. Instead, the administrator denied any wrongdoing by SJP and took no action against the offenders.

  • Administration attempted to silence Jewish students reporting antisemitism: After one student met with the Provost and sent Aa “recap” email to memorialize their in-person conversation about failures of the administration to adequately address campus antisemitism, the Provost met with the student again and specifically instructed the student to not send a “recap” email. It appeared to the student that the Provost was intentionally attempting to stifle the student’s attempt to hold the administration accountable for failing to address antisemitism.

  • Administration has repeatedly denied a Jewish student club official recognition on baseless, nontransparent grounds, and in doing so, is showing unlawful disparate treatment of Jews: Middlebury continuously rejects Jewish students’ requests for recognition of a Jewish student organization, Chabad, as an alternative to Hillel. Students have been told in the rejection notice that there is no need for two Jewish groups on campus, despite their being numerous Christian, Asian, and other ethnic-based student organizations.

    Currently, there is only one Jewish, officially recognized student group on Middlebury’s campus—Hillel. However, according to student reports, even Middlebury Hillel contributes to the pervasively hostile climate for Jews on campus. At least one student Hillel board member allegedly is also an active member of Students for Justice in Palestine; the Hillel Rabbi is a paid employee of Middlebury and therefore a member of Middlebury’s administration; Jewish students report that weekly emails sent out by the Middlebury Hillel and in the Hillel group chat regularly promote anti-Zionist events and include messages that are hostile to Zionist students.

    Without official club status, students affiliated with Chabad cannot receive funding or host Jewish events on campus, such as Shabbat dinners and holiday services, without tremendous barriers to entry created by the administration, making such events impossible. (Chabad serves nearly 900 college campuses globally through 364 full-time Chabad Houses. The majority of Chabad Houses in the U.S. are officially recognized as campus student groups.)

  • Retaliatory harassment of Jewish student documenting antisemitic speech: A Resident Assistant (RA) in a Middlebury dormitory posted a sign on the exterior of their dorm room door with the antisemitic slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” widely recognized as a call for the genocide of Jews. A Jewish student who resided on that floor reported it directly to Middlebury President Laurie Patton with a photo of the sign, which he noted also had a slogan in Arabic that translated as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be Arab.” Rather than investigate this incident as a possible violation of Middlebury’s policies, administrators compared it to an “all lives matter” sign taken out of context. Then, in a perverse twist, the university informed the Jewish student that it was instituting disciplinary proceedings against the Jewish student, ostensibly for reporting it.

The StandWithUs complaint suggest numerous remedies to address this egregious situation, including:

  • Reverse and cease all further punitive and retaliatory measures against the Jewish student who reported antisemitic calls for genocide posted by a resident assistant;

  • Immediately recognize Chabad formally as a student organization, enabling it to access university resources and space, so that it can function as a safe and supportive space for Jewish students for whom Hillel is not an adequate alternative;

  • Fully investigate all incidents of antisemitic behavior described for violations of university policies, and implement robust enforcement of those policies in order to provide accountability and deterrence;

  • Adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and be guided by this definition when addressing potential incidents of antisemitic discrimination and in training of staff tasked with reviewing discrimination and harassment complaints.

About the StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice 

The StandWithUs Center For Legal Justice (SCLJ) is a tax-exempt membership organization that partners with StandWithUs, a nonprofit education organization dedicated to supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. Comprised of students in K-12 and college, professors, and community members, SCLJ enhances StandWithUs’ mission through impact litigation and other legal actions. Info@swulegaljustice.org 

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