DEI Training Gone Wrong?

Two Stanford University mental health practitioners say a diversity, equity and inclusion program launched by the campus counseling center created a hostile environment for Jewish employees.

June 16, 2021
 
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Stanford University

Two Jewish employees of Stanford University’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) division filed federal and state complaints alleging a hostile environment for Jewish employees in a diversity, equity and inclusion program created internally for CAPS staff.

“We have here a DEI program that was intended to promote and support diversity and inclusion, and what happened in reality is that those goals were undermined and perverted because what they did instead was promote prejudice and bigotry against one group,” said Alyza D. Lewin, the lead attorney for the complainants and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a nonprofit organization focused on defending and advancing Jewish people’s civil rights.

“There was a blind spot in this DEI program when it came to Jewish identity,” Lewin said. “It erased Jewish identity. There was no space for these Jewish employees to share their lived experience, to raise their concerns about anti-Semitism. When they tried, they were attacked.”

The complaints submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Equal Housing were filed by Ronald Albucher, a staff psychiatrist at CAPS and a clinical associate professor of psychiatry, and Sheila Levin, a former clinical care manager and eating disorder specialist at CAPS.

The complaints center on CAPS' DEI program, established internally as a professional development program to help clinicians better treat students of diverse backgrounds. According to the complaint, CAPS announced in December 2019 that it would begin weekly DEI seminars and also announced the formation of a DEI committee made up of CAPS staff. The names of those committee members are not included in the public versions of the complaints, which are redacted.

The complaints allege that “the CAPS DEI program engages in intentional racial segregation through race-based affinity groups” and it “relies upon racial and ethnic stereotyping and scapegoating by describing all Jews as white or white-passing and therefore complicit in anti-Black racism.”

According to the complainants, CAPS staff were divided into two race-based discussion groups who met separately as part of the DEI program -- a “whiteness accountability” group and a separate group for people of color.

Albucher’s and Levin’s respective complaints allege that Jewish staff were “pressured to attend the DEI program’s racially segregated ‘whiteness accountability’ affinity group, which was created for ‘staff who hold privilege via white identity’ and ‘who are white identified, may be newly grappling with or realizing their white identity, or identify as or are perceived as white presenting or passing (aka seen as white by others even though you hold other identities).’”

“The DEI committee has also endorsed the narrative that Jews are connected to white supremacy, advancing anti-Semitic tropes concerning Jewish power, conspiracy and control,” the respective complaints allege. “By endorsing an anti-Semitic narrative that designates Jews collectively as ‘oppressors’ and responsible for systemic racism, while simultaneously denying the uniqueness of Jewish ancestral identity, the DEI committee fosters anti-Jewish sentiment and encourages hostility toward Jews (including Dr. Albucher and Ms. Levin).”

The complainants also allege that on at least two occasions, the DEI program “knowingly failed to respond to anti-Semitic incidents that occurred on the Stanford campus.”

One of those incidents occurred on May 16, 2020, when Zoombombers disrupted a virtual Stanford town hall by displaying pictures of swastikas and weapons and using the N-word. During a CAPS DEI seminar four days later, “DEI committee members addressed the racist and anti-Black content but did not mention anti-Semitism or the anti-Semitic images of swastikas that were displayed during the Zoombombing attack,” according to Albucher’s complaint.

When Albucher inquired about the omission, a DEI committee member -- whose name is redacted in the version of the complaint publicly released -- allegedly “stated, in sum and substance, that the DEI committee decided to omit any mention of anti-Semitism so as not to dominate the discussion about anti-Black racism.”

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“When Dr. Albucher further expressed his concern about the decision to ignore the issue of anti-Semitism, DEI committee member [name redacted] and others accused Dr. Albucher of trying to derail the agenda’s focus on anti-Black racism,” his complaint alleges. “DEI committee members justified the omission of anti-Semitism by insisting that unlike other minority groups, Jews can hide behind their white identity.”

“At this meeting, Dr. Albucher and Ms. Levin were subjected to anti-Jewish stereotypes,” his complaint states. “Participants invoked the anti-Semitic trope that Jews are wealthy and powerful business owners. These DEI committee members reasoned that because Jews, unlike other minority groups, possess privilege and power, Jews and victims of Jew-hatred do not merit or necessitate the attention of the DEI committee.”

Stanford’s media relations office declined an interview request but said in a written statement it was investigating the allegations and plans to launch centralized DEI training, which has traditionally been managed by individual campus units.

“Stanford is deeply committed to nurturing a diverse and inclusive work environment, one free from harassment and discrimination of any kind,” said Dee Mostofi, Stanford's assistant vice president for university media relations and communications. “We take complaints of this nature very seriously. We followed our process and have an ongoing investigation into this matter. Stanford forcefully rejects anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

“As part of our long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and to ensure consistency in the approach across campus, we are launching a centralized DEI learning program this summer and fall aimed at recognizing and addressing bias and discrimination. The program is designed to build awareness, further establish inclusive behaviors, and foster a more inclusive mindset.”

Levin said in an interview that she is concerned about the students CAPS professionals serve. “We’re a mental health clinic and we treat all students, and I wonder with this kind of biased training considering Jews, how it is going to play out if Jewish students came in for services. I have a real worry about that.”

Albucher, who directed CAPS for nine years, from 2008 to 2017, said he was disappointed in how the DEI training was handled internally within CAPS.

As mental health professionals, he said, “We don’t presuppose we know somebody walking in the door with anxiety or depression that we understand that. We have to do a thorough history, we get to know them as a person -- we form a connection with them. These are all skills that people with my group should have, and it seemed like they threw all that out the window -- ‘White people go over here, Jews, we don’t know what to do with you, we’re going to put you with the white people.’ I just think we can do so much better than that to get to the goals of DEI, which by the way I completely support.”

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