(January 13, 2020 / Jewish Journal) The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced on Jan. 3 that it is investigating a complaint that the University of California, Los Angeles improperly handled allegations of anti-Semitism.
The complaint, which was filed in October by nonprofit organization StandWithUs on behalf of student Shayna Lavi, focuses on a May incident in which San Francisco State University professor Rabab Abdulhadi was quoted by witnesses as saying during a guest lecture in an anthropology class that supporters of Israel are white supremacists.
The complaint states that Lavi brought the incident to UCLA’s Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO), which caused the class’s professor, Kyeyoung Park, to repeatedly mention during class that Lavi was victimizing her. Park also allegedly rebuffed Lavi’s request to bring in a pro-Israel speaker to the class.
“In short, Dr. Park used her position of authority not only repeatedly to harass, embarrass and intimidate Ms. Lavi, but also to retaliate against her for exercising her right to seek relief from the hostile environment to which she was being subjected,” the complaint states.
UCLA’s DPO concluded in August that Abdulhadi’s comments and Park’s subsequent actions did not amount to discrimination or harassment. The StandWithUs complaint argued otherwise, stating that UCLA is in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, gender or national origin, for not taking sufficient action in the matter.
They urged UCLA to undertake a series of measures to address anti-Semitism on campus, including adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, issuing a statement acknowledging that Zionism is a key component to a Jewish student’s identity and establishing a task force of students and administrators to deal with anti-Semitism.
OCR’s Sarah Berman wrote in a letter to StandWithUs that was obtained by the Jewish Journal, “We have determined that your complaint is appropriate for investigation under the laws enforced by OCR and OCR is now opening your complaint for investigation. OCR is now beginning the complaint resolution process.”
StandWithUS CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement, “Students should never be subjected to discrimination, harassment or retaliation by their professors after standing up for themselves, their identity, and their community. For Shayna, as for many Jews, Zionism is an integral part of her Jewish identity, and university administrators should be in the business of protecting students against conduct that marginalizes and demonizes them, not giving such hate a free pass.”
Lavi told the Journal in a text message, “I appreciate that OCR has taken my complaint seriously and is looking into it.”
UCLA Associate Director of Media Relations Ricardo Vazquez said in a statement to the Journal that “after viewing a recording of the class and interviewing participants, DPO, while not endorsing the guest speaker’s ideas or the manner in which the class was handled, concluded that the comments made during the lecture were not the type of severe, pervasive and persistent unwelcome conduct that constitutes harassment or discrimination. Some background information that we can share publicly is available here.”
He added that “discussions of issues of deep personal concern may be profoundly uncomfortable, but as a university, our goal is to help students critically analyze even unpleasant ideas and engage across lines of difference with respect.”
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.
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