Civil Rights Experts to Duke: Federal Law Requires You Recognize Students Supporting Israel

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Duke’s Remedy to Date Insufficient Under the Law

Noting that Duke University’s so-called remedy is insufficient under the law, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law today called on President Vincent Price to formally recognize the Duke chapter of Students Supporting Israel. According to the Brandeis Center, formal recognition is the “only way to ensure the University’s compliance” with federal law. In November, only days after the Duke University Student Government (DSG) voted to recognize campus group Students Supporting Israel (SSI), DSG president Christina Wang vetoed the recognition. Wang claimed SSI inappropriately “singled out an individual student on their organization’s social media account.” The incident in question involves SSI’s response to a Duke student’s tweet that read, “My school promotes settler colonialism.” SSI retweeted the student’s post with the following response, “To Yana and others like her, please allow us to educate you on what ‘settler colonialism’ actually is and why Israel does not fall under this category whatsoever,” and they invited the Duke community to an “SSI 101” event to discuss further. After the Duke Senate upheld Wang’s veto, President Price issued a statement that although the student government’s decision is “independent” from the university, the administration will provide financial and program support to SSI without formal recognition by the student government. “While we appreciate your efforts to address the matter in your recent statement,” wrote the Brandeis Center legal advocates in today’s letter, “it is not sufficient under the law merely to provide ‘options to secure financial and programmatic support’ without formal recognition.” The Brandeis Center went on to explain why Duke is “legally obligated to take corrective action in response to the unlawful treatment of Duke SSI by formally recognizing the student organization and ensuring it has equal access to resources.” According to the Brandeis Center, Duke’s behavior violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin and shared ethnicity. The Brandeis Center notes that from the moment Duke SSI applied for recognition, it was subjected to special scrutiny not applied to other non-Jewish groups. First, student representatives from Duke SSI were forced to endure extensive questioning before the student government vote. Second, once a prospective student group fulfills all application requirements, as Duke SSI did, the student government usually approves the group’s recognition unanimously. In the case of SSI, however, student senators voiced opposition when a formal vote was held on the question of recognition. Third, up until this incident, the presidential veto had never been used to revoke a formal recognition. In fact, when Duke’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) posted a photograph of students affiliated with another pro-Israel group on campus (DIPAC) with the antagonizing caption, “Because y’all are a bunch of racist clowns,” and tweeted, “So I’m going to repeat myself again, f**k DIPAC and every Zionist on campus,” SJP’s recognition was not even challenged, let alone revoked.


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