New Report: University Policies Fail to Protect Jewish Students
Contact: Nicole Rosen
Santa Cruz, CA, December 14, 2022 – At a time when the mainstreaming and normalization of antisemitism is at an all-time high in the U.S., campus antisemitism watchdog group, AMCHA Initiative, released alarming new research which reveals school policies fail to address the predominant vehicle for antisemitism on campuses today, leaving Jewish students vulnerable and endangered.
“Whether antisemitism emanates from the right, in the form of classic antisemitism, or from the left, in the form of anti-Zionism, the rhetoric used to portray Jews is becoming increasingly similar: Jews possess undue power and privilege, which they use to control and oppress others. And while the antisemitism may be directed to different audiences, its intended effect is the same: to portray Jews as a threat to the common good, whose malevolent influence must be challenged and neutralized,” stated AMCHA Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. “Yet, as the problem is rapidly becoming more acute, with a new massive assault on Jewish identity on campuses nationwide, a thorough examination of university policies reveals Jewish students are left neglected, vulnerable, exposed and without recourse against antisemitic harassment.”
In the first-ever report of its kind, Falling Through the Cracks: How School Policies Deny Jewish Students Equal Protection from Campus Antisemitism, AMCHA’s researchers compared the two main mechanisms in place on campuses to protect students from harassment and bigotry: Non-Discrimination & Harassment Policies and Student Codes of Conduct. Non-Discrimination & Harassment Policies are designed to address instances of harassing behavior directed at students because of their membership in particular protected identity groups. While most minorities are covered by these policies, Jewish students who fall victim to anti-Zionist motivated harassment, the predominant form of antisemitism on campuses today, are often deemed ineligible for coverage under this policy, since many university administrators do not consider support for Israel an expression of a Jewish student’s religious beliefs or ethnicity. Jewish students who are not covered under the Non-Discrimination and Harassment Policy must therefore seek redress under the school’s general Code of Conduct.
However, a comparison of the Non-Discrimination & Harassment Policies and Student Codes of Conduct on 100 campuses most popular with Jewish students revealed that, despite the severity of the harassment, not one school afforded victims as much protection under its Code of Conduct as they received under the school’s Harassment Policy, likely leaving Jewish students unprotected from and vulnerable to the same harassment other students are protected from. The study found:
- While every school’s Harassment Policy included verbal abuse as a form of harassment, nearly one-quarter of the Codes of Conduct did not include verbal abuse in their descriptions of prohibited behavior. Jewish students at a school with such a Code of Conduct who are not considered eligible for protection under the Harassment Policy have little or no administrative recourse from verbal harassment.
- While every school’s Harassment policy defined harassment as conduct that limited, interfered with, or impaired a student’s ability to participate in campus life, less than 40% of the Codes of Conduct described harassing behavior in this way; 60% of schools most popular with Jewish students do not recognize this crucial impact of the harassing behavior, and are therefore less likely to treat such behavior as seriously as they do when directed at members of “protected” identity groups.
- More than one-third of the schools included in their Codes of Conduct statements affirming that harassment of students in “protected” identity groups would receive more severe punitive sanctions than similar behavior directed against “unprotected” students, thereby creating a more robust deterrent against the harassment of students in “protected” identity groups than against Jewish victims who are not recognized as “protected” students by university administrators.
- While all Harassment policies included a description of robust protection from retaliation for those who filed complaints, almost half of the school Codes did not even mention retaliation protection, leaving Jewish students at a school with such a Code of Conduct who are not considered eligible for protection under the Harassment Policy less likely to report harassing behavior to administrators for fear of retaliation.
- In more than three-quarters of the schools, complaints of harassment targeting students in “protected” identity groups were handled by a special administrative office that focused on handling complaints of harassment and discrimination exclusively, while complaints about harassing conduct directed at Jewish students covered only by the school’s Code of Conduct were handled by the same office that handles all student conduct complaints.
The study further noted that the problem of unfair and inadequate protection from harassment for Jewish students is greatly exacerbated by the unequal way administrators treat verbal harassment under the school’s Harassment Policy versus its Code of Conduct. As most schools acknowledge, speech that meets the behavioral definition of harassment in their school’s Harassment Policy and targets students who are members of the protected classes covered by the policy is not considered free speech and will be subject to discipline. However, harassing speech directed at “unprotected” students – no matter how severe, pervasive or persistent -- is considered free speech and will not be subject to discipline. The study explains that this disparity doubly disadvantages many Jewish students: “[N]ot only are their harassers afforded free speech protection that is, in effect, license to continue verbally harassing them, but their own freedom of speech and academic freedom is diminished by the harassment.”
“Despite the fact that anti-Zionist motivated attacks often meet the threshold for harassment articulated in school’s harassment policies, the unfair discrepancy between these two policies means the exact same harmful behavior will be addressed promptly and vigorously for some students, but ignored or downplayed when it comes to Jewish students,” stated Rossman-Benjamin. “As the mainstreaming and normalization of antisemitism on social media and among entertainers, athletes, corporate executives and politicians continues at an alarming pace, it is essential that administrators address the institutional basis for the egregiously unfair treatment of Jewish students who fall victim to harassment and bullying.
To fix this inequality, the report recommends requiring schools to use a single standard to judge objectionable behavior: language and action deemed unacceptable when directed at students from one group must be deemed unacceptable when directed at any student, irrespective of the motivation of the perpetrator or the identity of the victim. Under the First Amendment, all students - including Jewish students - have a constitutional right to be equally and adequately protected from behavior that takes away their own freedom of expression. And all students deserve an environment free from harassment that impedes their education and well-being. The researchers note that Harvard recently unveiled a draft policy that will do just that and can serve as a model for implementing this recommended approach. The Harvard draft policy guarantees unprotected students the administrative consideration of and response to harassing behavior equivalent to that granted protected students.
The report also recommends legislators consider new legislation, similar to the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, that establishes a clear legal process and robust government enforcement mechanisms for ensuring that all students in state and federally funded schools are equally and adequately protected from harassing behavior.
AMCHA Initiative is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to combating antisemitism at colleges and universities in the United States. The organization monitors more than 450 campuses for antisemitic activity, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and the U.S. government. AMCHA is not a pro-Israel advocacy organization, nor does it take a position on current or past Israeli government policies; criticism of Israel that does not meet the IHRA and U.S. government criteria is not considered antisemitic by the organization. AMCHA has recorded more than 5,000 antisemitic incidents on college campuses since 2015 which can be accessed through its Antisemitism Tracker.