In 2021, Jewish students in the Mental Health Counseling master’s degree program at Brooklyn College found themselves victims of antisemitic harassment from both professors and students. The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a nonprofit organization that advocates the civil and human rights of Jewish people, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education last year and the department opened an investigation in early February 2022. The complaint filed against the school claimed that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was violated. Title VI was only recently expanded to include antisemitism in 2019.
Many of the incidents involved Jewish students being harassed for how they identified their race. In a classroom, students had an activity where they were required to rank their identities. When a Jewish student ranked their identity as Jewish above white, the student was reprimanded and “told they are part of the dominant culture that does not understand oppression,” according to the U.S Department of Education. There was also a situation in a WhatsApp chat where a Jewish student was threatened with strangulation and when another Jewish student came to their defense, they were called a racist. When Jewish students opposed this treatment they were told to “get your whiteness in check,” and to, “keep your head down.” When a Jewish student said that they were Hispanic, an administrator claimed that being Jewish overrides being Hispanic and should still be considered white and privileged. The administration was aware of situations occurring, but they were not proactive in helping their Jewish students with the harassment they faced.
These occurrences coincide with a rise in antisemitism across the country, and not just on college campuses. Whoopi Goldberg was recently suspended from The View for her comments that the Holocaust wasn’t about race and it was just “two white groups of people.” In January, there was a hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas where the four hostages, including the Rabbi, were held for over 10 hours at gunpoint.
Even at Queens College, there was recently an incident where offensive graffiti was found in Delany Hall. According to an email from President Frank Wu, the graffiti included a swastika and the letters “KKK.” The situation was addressed in a statement by President Frank Wu saying that, “at Queens College, we stand strongly against racism, sexism, bigotry, and religious intolerance of any kind. Our values are clear: Queens College welcomes all students who meet our academic requirements, whatever their race, background, or identity.”
In response to the lawsuit, Brooklyn College denounced antisemitism and said they are, “committed to working cooperatively and fully with the U.S. Department of Education.” Denise Katz-Prober, the Brandeis Center’s Director of Legal Initiatives also released a statement, “In a university program for mental health professionals, Jews are told they must identify as white, are called privileged, and are accused of being oppressors, this runs completely counter to Jewish history. It utterly ignores centuries of Jewish discrimination and murder, which we are frighteningly seeing resurface, and it promotes dangerous age-old anti-Semitic tropes concerning Jewish power, conspiracy and control.” She also explains that, “fighting bigotry should not be a competition between minority groups; it’s not a zero-sum game.”
Due to rising harassment and discrimination on their campuses, many universities, including NYU and the University of Illinois, have been putting measures in place to combat antisemitism.