At the ACLJ, we’ve just taken new action to combat the growing scourge of antisemitism in America’s universities.
Last week we filed a federal complaint on behalf of our client, Hillel of Georgia, asking the Department of Education to investigate and determine whether the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) has engaged in antisemitic discrimination, in permitting a hostile environment, and other violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Georgia Tech allowed blatant antisemitic exclusion and harassment at a campus group event; attempted to conceal the offense; repeatedly and systemically stonewalled Jewish student and faculty efforts to address the incident; ignored two out of the three complaints arising from said event; and, after a student conduct board finally found the campus group guilty on the one complaint they did hear, violated their own policies and issued a decision on appeal reversing that guilty ruling – allowing the antisemitism to continue unchecked.
On April 1, 2019, Ms. Lauren Blazofsky, the Director of Hillel at Georgia Tech, was denied entry to a public event sponsored by the Young Democratic Socialists of America because she is Jewish and affiliated with a Jewish organization. Ms. Blazofsky immediately filed a complaint with Georgia Tech’s Office of Integrity.
Two Jewish students who did attend the event also submitted complaints to the Office of Integrity alleging that they had been singled out and harassed at the event.
After an unacceptable five-month delay, on September 17, 2019, a student conduct hearing was held by the Georgia Tech Office of Integrity in response to Ms. Blazofsky’s complaint. The two complaints filed by the Jewish students have still not been addressed by the school.
Following that hearing, Georgia Tech’s Office of Integrity found that YDSA had indeed violated Ms. Blazofsky’s rights, and gave YDSA five business days from the date of the decision to appeal. That deadline passed, and on October, 24, 2019, YDSA acknowledged that it had been found guilty through a misleading Twitter petition demanding reversal. Instead of showing the slightest sign of remorse, YDSA waged a victim-blaming PR campaign alleging that the decision was based on silencing YDSA’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Based on this false narrative of the decision, YDSA requested other groups and activists to join them by contacting Georgia Tech and demanding the decision to be reversed.
Apparently, YDSA succeeded in its campaign to overturn the decision and allow discrimination to continue unabated. For some reason that has never been communicated to Hillel or Ms. Blazofsky, Georgia Tech reversed its decision – well past the appeal decision deadline. Hillel made numerous attempts to find out how and why this happened, but they were essentially stonewalled by the Georgia Tech administration.
On November 14, 2019, the ACLJ sent Georgia Tech a letter demanding it explain what happened and take corrective action. In response, Georgia Tech acknowledged that its policies were flawed, but would not explain how or why the reversal took place after the matter had been officially closed. The only indication Georgia Tech would give the undersigned ACLJ counsel was that it had something to do with the fact that since other Jewish people were allowed into the event, there could not have been antisemitism after all. This classic trope, in the vein of “some of my best friends are ____,” is itself antisemitic, so much so that “it has become shorthand for weak denials of bigotry — a punch line about the absence of thoughtfulness and rigor in our conversations about racism.”
As mentioned above, in addition to the antisemitism directed at Ms. Blazofsky, there were two other Jewish students who attended the April 1 program who filed their own incident reports with the Georgia Tech Office of Integrity alleging discrimination. The complaints note that the students were verbally attacked and told to never come back to a YDSA program. It has been eight months since those complaints were filed and Georgia Tech has yet to even schedule an initial hearing. Georgia Tech’s limited explanation regarding the reversal of its decision in Ms. Blazofsky’s matter also ignored the harassment of those Jewish studens who were permitted into the event, and failed to explain why their complants have still not been heard.
The problem of antisemitism on campuses around the country is so well-known that the President of the United States recently issued an Executive Order specifically designed to combat it. Georgia Tech’s behavior was done in the face of rising antisemitism on Georgia campuses in particular, and despite earnest and persistent pressure by the affected community to stand up to the bigotry and discrimination and do something about it. (In November alone, as Georgia Tech was secretly reversing its decision and refusing to explain why, swastikas were found on two other University of Georgia system campuses. While we do not yet have the numbers from 2019, in 2018 Georgia had the highest number of antisemitic incidents of any state in the Southeast.)
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.
Title VI prohibits discrimination in federally assisted programs and activities, on the basis of race, color, or national origin. A violation of Title VI may be found if discrimination is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by administrators.
The clear message that Georgia Tech is communicating is that they are deliberately indifferent to the concerns and wellbeing of its Jewish population. Affected community members have been physically excluded from at least one event and Georgia Tech’s indifference to their legitimate concerns and complaints has made them feel unwelcome at many more. Without prompt and appropriate action – including requiring Georgia Tech to evenhandedly enforce its own rules and procedures and comply with Title VI – Jewish students will continue to be victimized by Georgia Tech’s implied consent for antisemitic discrimination and racism; will be unable to participate at additional campus functions; and will continue to be harassed and excluded. That is why we took action.
Read the full complaint here.
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