The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced it has opened a formal investigation into a complaint alleging Jewish students at Brooklyn College have been subjected to severe and persistent anti-Semitic harassment from both professors and peers. OCR evaluates all complaints it receives, but it only pursues investigations in those it determines warrant a more thorough investigation. The complaint OCR will investigate was submitted on behalf of Jewish students in the Mental Health Counseling master’s program at Brooklyn College and alleges that Brooklyn College has allowed a hostile environment to proliferate on its campus in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was prepared by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.
The OCR complaint outlines how professors have maligned Jews on the basis of race and ethnic identity, advancing age-old anti-Semitic tropes concerning Jewish power, conspiracy and control, and endorsing the narrative that Jews are “white” and privileged and therefore contribute to systemic oppression of people of color. For example, in one class a professor stated that Ashkenazi Jews who immigrated to America have become part of the oppressors in this country. In another instance when students were asked to rank their identities, and a Jewish student ranked Jewish identity before white identity, the Jewish student was berated and told they are part of the dominant culture that does not understand oppression. Relegating Jewish students into white-only categories occurred multiple times in the program.
Fellow students also bullied and harassed Jewish students in classes and on social media using the same ethnic stereotypes, tropes and divisive concepts that faculty promoted in their courses. For example, in a WhatsApp student group chat, a student expressed her desire to strangle a Jewish student and others showed support. When another Jewish student came to the victim’s defense, the student who made the attack accused the Jewish student of being racist, claiming they were “part of the dominant culture” of “white people” who “continue to perpetuate power structures.” When the Jewish students asked college administrators to intervene and establish ground rules against threats and bullying, fellow students objected that ground rules do not apply when racism needs to be called out, assigning Jews the role of racist oppressors.
“By advancing the racist and ethnic stereotype that all Jews are ‘white’ and ‘privileged’ and therefore oppress people of color, faculty members, students and course assignments in the [Mental Health Counseling] program thereby invoke the classical anti-Semitic trope that Jews possess disproportionate power and influence in society, which they use for nefarious purposes against non-Jews, while also subjecting them to racial stereotypes about ‘whites,’” explained the Brandeis Center in its complaint.