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June 8, 2023 4:01 pm

US Government Investigating SUNY New Paltz for Antisemitic Discrimination


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

The Old Main at SUNY New Paltz in New Paltz, New York. Photo: crz4mets2 via Wikimedia Commons

The US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is investigating State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz to determine whether it refused to intervene when Jewish students were expelled from a campus group for being Zionists, according to lawyers representing the students.

The federal probe follows an August 2022 legal complaint filed by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Jewish on Campus (JOC) after Cassandra Blotner was allegedly bullied into leaving New Paltz Accountability (NPA) — a group she founded to support sexual assault survivors — for posting social media content aimed at dispelling antisemitic myths about Israel. A second student, Ofek Preis, also left NPA after its members allegedly also bullied her for supporting Israel and refused to mediate the dispute in a meeting with the New Paltz Jewish Student Union, according to the complaint.

“The opening of this investigation is significant because this complaint concerns the kinds of antisemitism that are becoming increasingly prevalent on college campuses and are spilling out beyond it,” Brandeis Center attorney Denise Katz-Prober told The Algemeiner on Thursday.

“SUNY New Paltz was aware that Cassie and Ofek were pushed out of NPA and denied the opportunity to be part of a sexual assault survivor group that provided services they were entitled to receive, and after being made aware of that it it did not do anything to rectify the situation and address the discrimination and harassment that they faced,” Katz-Prober added.

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Julia Jassey, founder of Jewish on Campus, a nonprofit that collects and publicizes reports of campus antisemitism, told The Algemeiner that she’s encouraged that the Biden administration has launched the investigation on the heels of a national plan for addressing antisemitism.

“What they went through is so harrowing and immensely disturbing,” Jassey said, referring to Blotner and Preis. “When [they] reached out to us, our team immediately huddled to begin working on mobilizing the legal resources needed to ensure that justice prevailed in this case. We hope that their stories will inspire other students around the country to stand up and say that antisemitism isn’t acceptable.”

The Algemeiner also on Thursday spoke with Blotner and Preis, who say their lives were transformed after the details of what they endured became public and were included in a segment of an Aug. 2022 documentary CNN produced on rising antisemitism in the US. Blotner explained that upon returning to campus the next fall term, whispers and flitting glances in her direction filled any classroom in which her name was called by a professor. 

“It was pretty hard for me,” Blotner, who graduated in May, said. “I had to just get back into my groove again, so I said to myself that I would rely on my friends, who I knew would always be my source of support. But it was hard to feel a part of the campus community, and to this day the university has done nothing to help us, nothing to make things right. Am I happy that SUNY New Paltz is what’s written on my degree? No, but I still earned it, and am proud of myself for finishing school.” 

Reflecting on the past year and a half, Preis, who also graduated in May, expressed gratitude. 

“I’m very grateful for the precedent our case will set, and I’m grateful for all the help the Brandeis Center and Jewish on Campus provided,” Preis said. “My life has changed so much because of this incident, but I’ve learned so much about the importance of justice for the Jewish people, and I’ve connected with so many wonderful individuals and organizations that gave me the opportunity to make it possible.” 

SUNY New Paltz told The Algemeiner on Friday, “We do not comment on pending investigations,” but also said, “We unequivocally condemn any attacks on SUNY students who are Jewish, and we will not tolerate antisemitic harassment and intimidation on campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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