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September 15, 2022 4:48 pm

University of Vermont Denies It Mishandled Alleged Antisemitic Incidents

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

University of Vermont in Burlington. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The president of University of Vermont (UVM) is denying allegations that school officials mishandled a series of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred in 2021.

Responding publicly to the charges made against the school for the first time, university president Suresh V. Garimella on Thursday accused the media of publishing an “uninformed narrative” and portraying UVM “in a patently false light.”

In August, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opened a formal civil rights investigation on UVM based on a complaint filed by two Jewish advocacy groups.

The Brandeis Center and Jewish on Campus, the groups which filed the complaint, allege that the university violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act when it punished no one after UVM’s Hillel Center was vandalized and when Jewish students who embrace Zionism faced harassment by a teaching assistant and were expelled from student clubs.

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Garimella, however, maintained that no students reported being harassed by an anti-Israel teaching assistant and that the university “took prompt action to ensure that the objectionable statements did not adversely impact students.” He also claimed that students threw rocks at the windows of UVM Hillel to awake a sleeping friend, and that the university was powerless to punish two student clubs for restricting membership from self-identified Zionists because the groups were unrecognized.

“He doesn’t acknowledge or address the harassment that has been taking place on the campus,” Brandeis Center president Alyza Lewin, a litigant in the complaint against UVM, told The Algemeiner on Thursday. “He’s engaging in victim blaming instead of taking responsibility and correcting what is causing the hostile climate on the campus.”

Others also expressed concerned about Garimella’s statement. On Friday, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) said its leaders are “troubled” by it.

“His statement is far more equivocal than the reactions by other university and college presidents and administrations to manifestations of antisemitism on their campuses,” WJC continued. “We look forward to the resolution of the Department of Education’s Title VI investigation and reiterate our full support for the Jewish students at UVM, who must be allowed to freely assert their Jewishness and openly identify with and express their support for the State of Israel without fear of being shunned, marginalized, and excluded from campus opportunities by fellow students, or, far worse, by the university establishment as a whole.”

In Thursday’s statement, Garimella claimed that since the incidents of 2021, the university has expanded efforts to support Jewish students.

“Our work in understanding and eliminating antisemitism will never be complete,” he continued. “We will continue to learn and support UVM’s Jewish community to ensure that any future incidents might occur will be addressed with immediacy and sensitivity to what they are experiencing.”

The opening of an OCR investigation is not an implication of guilt but an acknowledgement that civil rights violations are alleged to have been committed by an educational institution.

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