The ACLJ has just settled an important case with an agreement that immediately affects Jewish students at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and can hopefully set a precedent for other universities to follow.
Last January we filed a federal complaint on behalf of our client, Hillels of Georgia, asking the Department of Education to investigate and determine whether the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) had engaged in antisemitic discrimination in permitting a hostile environment and other violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance from the Department of Education. As a recipient of federal financial assistance from the Department, Georgia Tech is subject to the provisions of Title VI and is required to make sure that it handles all complaints appropriately. Under Title VI, the standard for unacceptable discriminatory conduct includes behavior that “is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or privileges provided by a recipient.” A violation of Title VI may be found if discrimination is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by administrators.
Our complaint came after the Director of Hillel at Georgia Tech was denied entry to a public event because she is Jewish and affiliated with a Jewish organization. Having determined that we met the appropriate thresholds, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) opened a formal investigation. You can read our complaint letter here.
In December 2020, the parties agreed to participate in OCR’s Facilitated Resolution Between Parties (FRBP) process with a FRBP facilitator. After two days of mediation, the parties agreed to a resolution that would allow everyone to move forward in a collaborative fashion and ensure that Jewish students remain protected on campus. Georgia Tech agreed that in exchange for Hillels of Georgia dropping their Title VI complaint, they would issue a statement that recognized and embraced the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, condemned antisemitism, and promised to work with Hillel on the next steps for ensuring the best possible campus environment for Jewish students and all students.
The ACLJ firmly believes that in our college institutions, the freedom of speech, even offensive speech, should be cherished and respected as part of what makes our democracy great. This case, however, is not about restricting speech nor is it about the viewpoint of any person or club. This has always been about ensuring that Jewish students are not turned away from events or opportunities because of their race or national origin, which is clearly antisemitic discrimination.
We are hopeful that Georgia Tech’s statement will spur other universities to proactively embrace the IHRA definition and not wait until there is an incident on campus that requires them to apply it when assessing motive for discriminatory conduct. In the meantime, we will remain vigilant to protect Jewish students, and all students, from discrimination and harassment.
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