Dive Brief:

  • The University of Vermont failed to properly investigate alleged antisemitic incidents on campus and took steps that may have discouraged students and employees from coming forward in the future, the U.S. Department of Education said Monday in announcing the resolution of an investigation into the matter.
  • The agency’s Office for Civil Rights received a complaint in October 2021 alleging lack of action by the university’s equal opportunity office regarding several complaints of antisemitic harassment.
  • Under a resolution agreement, the university will provide antidiscrimination training to all staff and students with a focus on harassment based on national origin and shared ancestry. It will also clarify the responsibilities of its equal opportunity office and Bias Response Team and submit all complaints of antisemitism filed during the preceding academic year to OCR.

Dive Insight:

In April and May of 2021, a teaching assistant at the University of Vermont allegedly tweeted a series of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist posts and talked about grading Jewish students more harshly than their classmates, the investigation said. She also praised the theft of a student’s Israeli flag and added the word “Kristallnacht” to a picture of a damaged store with Hebrew letters.

Additional allegations throughout the year said that student groups had excluded Jewish students, and students had targeted Jewish campus group Hillel and student residence spaces on campus with rock throwing.

An unnamed complainant informed multiple University of Vermont offices of the incidents, including the equal opportunity office, but did not receive any follow-up for several months. The university’s equal opportunity office ultimately declined to investigate the teaching assistant without interviewing anyone prior to reaching that decision, according to OCR. 

And when the university did eventually address the TA’s conduct four months after the complaint, it did so outside of its own discrimination policy, OCR said.

Shortly after OCR announced its investigation in 2022, University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella wrote an open letter to the university community addressing and vehemently denying the allegations.

“An anonymous third party’s allegations that the university failed to adequately respond to complaints of anti-Jewish, biased behavior at UVM has painted our community in a patently false light,” he said in the Sept. 15 letter. The letter also said no student had reported the TA in question for harassment or discrimination against them.

OCR, however, said this letter was problematic. Published shortly before the agency asked to interview students, the letter may have discouraged them from speaking out and may have perpetuated a hostile environment, the agency said.

“OCR is concerned that the failure to investigate allegations of harassment of which the University had notice may have allowed a hostile environment for some Jewish students to persist at the University,” Mia Karvonides, senior legal advisor at the Education Department, said in a letter to Garimella.

The University of Vermont said Monday it will use all tools at its disposal to eliminate harassment and hostile behavior based on identity or shared ancestry bias.

“It is UVM’s responsibility to provide equal opportunity to all members of its community to fully express their identity in an environment free from discrimination and harassment,” a university spokesperson said in an email.

With today’s resolution, UVM has agreed to make its commitment even more tangible to the campus community moving forward,” the spokesperson said.

The OCR’s findings come as colleges are reckoning with an increase in antisemitic discrimination and harassment against students and staff. In 2021, 155 antisemitic incidents were reported at over 100 college campuses, a 21% increase from the year prior, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a response from the University of Vermont.