The University of Vermont is under federal investigation, following allegations of antisemitism on campus.
The probe, confirmed to NECN & NBC10 Boston by a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education, is from the department's civil rights wing. It is responsible for ensuring, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that everyone is being protected from discrimination at educational institutions which receive federal funding -- including UVM.
Among the concerns outlined in an administrative complaint are reports that a center for Jewish campus life was pelted with small stones and had a sticky substance smeared on the property.
The document also traces allegations that a teaching assistant, who was not identified, discriminated against Jewish students because of their ancestry and ethnicities — even threatening their grades. Additionally, the filing says a student group that advocates for survivors of sexual violence is accused of blocking Jews from membership, citing the ongoing conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians as the reason for denial of participation.
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"Why this case is so important for us is that we see students being excluded from campus life," said Julia Jassey, who leads the organization Jewish on Campus.
Jewish on Campus collaborated with the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, on the formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Education. The organizations said they want to see UVM take tangible steps to improve Jewish life on campus, including by forming a task force and launching training sessions about harassment and intimidation.
"If the university is to truly be a safe, welcoming space for all, then the Jewish students also have to be able to come to the table with their full identity," said Alyza Lewin of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. "And that’s all we need to fix. That’s just what we need to fix."
In response to a request for comment from NECN & NBC10 Boston, UVM issued the following written statement:
"The University is aware of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigation and is looking forward to providing the agency with a full response to the underlying allegations, each of which was reported to the university in 2021 and investigated by campus officials. UVM seeks to foster a culture of inclusiveness for all students, faculty, and staff, including members of our Jewish community and does not tolerate acts of bias or discrimination related to religion, race, culture, gender, or sexual orientation on our campus."
Avi Zatz, who told NECN & NBC10 Boston he transferred from the University of Vermont to the University of Florida in large part because he didn’t feel UVM administrators were taking anti-semitism on campus seriously, said he hopes the investigation results in the university focusing on enforcing its own non-discrimination policies.
"I felt that if I stayed and if something were to happen to me, I knew the administration wouldn’t be there for me," Zatz said in an interview Tuesday.
Zatz also said that in his view, Jewish students at UVM can "get overlooked sometimes."
UVM Hillel, a campus organization that works to support Jewish students in living and learning on campus safely and with pride in their community, issued a written statement following the announcement of the federal investigation. The UVM Hillel statement reads, in part:
"We know from our colleagues across the country that antisemitism and anti-Israel activity have risen to unprecedented levels with the return to in-person campus activity. We take seriously our responsibility to work with our university partners to ensure incidents of bias are addressed, and that university leaders swiftly identify and publicly condemn antisemitism, bias, and hate in any form. Our campus and our community should be a safe space for all students – including Jewish students. There is no place for hatred at the University of Vermont, and we look forward to continuing working together as a UVM community toward a campus climate that makes all students feel safe and welcome on campus."
As for the civil rights probe, the spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education said the department does not comment on pending investigations.
However, a source familiar with how such probes work from her work as an attorney said they can take a long time and are generally focused on whether any corrective actions are warranted.