(November 16, 2020 / JNS) The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), in coordination with the Jewish community, announced on Monday its commitment to address an alarming increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist harassment and discrimination on its campus.
“Students who choose the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for their college education make that decision with an expectation that they will find the freedom and security to grow, to explore and to express their whole and best selves,” said the university in a statement, which it released in coordination with the Jewish United Fund Chicago, Illini Hillel, Hillel International, Illini Chabad, Arnold & Porter and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.
“Sadly, that is not the experience of all members of the student community. Anti-Semitic acts and expressions are all too common in our country and in our world, and examples of that intolerance have occurred at this university as well,” they continued. “This is unacceptable. While the university has taken measures in the past to address this problem, the university must do more.”
The statement notes that university “leaders in the Jewish community and counsel for the Jewish students have engaged in meaningful and productive conversations,” and although “we may not agree on all aspects of these complex and critical issues, we are united in a single view that our shared and common goal must be to support a safe and welcoming environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students at the University of Illinois that is free of discrimination and harassment.”
The statement came in response to recent anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist incidents at the university over the past few years, as outlined in a complaint filed months ago with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, submitted on behalf of Jewish students and alleging that the school has allowed a hostile environment to proliferate on its campus in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint, filed in accordance with the December 2019 executive order on combating anti-Semitism, was publicized last month.
The statement is independent of the complaint and does not impact it, Hillel International spokesperson Matthew Berger told JNS.
“We deplore anti-Semitic incidents on campus, including those that demonize or delegitimize Jewish and pro-Israel students or compare them to Nazis. This subjects them to double standards that are not applied to others,” said the statement released on Monday. “All Jewish students, including those who identify with Israel or Jewish campus organizations, should be able to participate in campus activities aimed at fighting racism and achieving social justice.”
The University of Illinois will “create an Advisory Council on Jewish and Campus Life that will consist of undergraduate and graduate students, staff, faculty and alumni, as well as representatives from the Jewish community,” according to the statement.
The advisory group will “assist the chancellor and university leadership to identify opportunities to enhance the campus environment for all students, faculty and staff, and to advance its commitment to an inclusive community where all feel welcome,” according to the statement.
The university expects to have the advisory group in place before the spring 2021 semester, which begins on Jan. 25. The campus is open in-person and for remote learning amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
Additionally, the statement said the university “will institute focused and regularly recurring educational programming regarding anti-Semitism.”
Moreover, UIUC “will review, evaluate and, when necessary, revise procedures and practices so they are appropriately aligned with shared values opposing discrimination and harassment on campus, including anti-Semitic actions.”
UIUC emphasized that while it is committed to protecting freedom of speech and academic freedom, it is also committed to “never tolerate harassment or discrimination, including against its Jewish students, and to enforce its nondiscrimination policy to the fullest extent” and “is committed to complying with applicable federal, state and local anti-discrimination laws as a state and federally funded institution.”
The Jewish organizations involved in the statement thanked UIUC Chancellor Robert Jones for his efforts, but noted that this is “only a first step.”
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