The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has resolved its investigation into how the University of Vermont responded to complaints from students who said they faced antisemitic harassment at the institution.
Department investigators identified several areas of concern, including failure to investigate the allegations and that the failure to do so “may have allowed a hostile environment for some Jewish students to persist at the university.” Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects students from discrimination based on race, color or national origin.
Students who complained to OCR said they faced online harassment from a teaching assistant who talked about wanting to lower Zionist students’ grades and that a campus group excluded Zionists from participating. The complaint also included allegations that the campus Hillel building was vandalized.
Jewish college students have reported an increase in campus antisemitism in recent years, and the Vermont case is the first of several open investigations involving complaints of antisemitism to be resolved.
“It does not appear that the university determined whether the cumulative effects of these incidents created a hostile environment based on students’ shared ancestry (Jewish) or took action regarding the cumulative effects of the incidents until after the commencement of OCR’s investigation of this matter,” department officials wrote in a letter to the university.
The office also was concerned that the university president’s initial response to the office opening an investigation “may have perpetuated a hostile environment” and discouraged students who filed the federal complaint from speaking with the agency about their experiences.
As part of the resolution agreement with the department, released Monday, the university agreed to review and revise its policies to ensure that the university’s response is consistent with federal law, provide training to staff, and educate students and staff about Title VI’s prohibition of harassment. The university also agreed to issue a statement committing to address discrimination based on shared ancestry, including antisemitism.
“I am grateful for the University of Vermont’s commitment to address antisemitic harassment that violates federal civil rights law,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a news release. “Everyone has a right to learn in an environment free from antisemitic harassment. We will be watching to be sure these students are safe.”