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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

Middlebury community responds to criticism from Fox News over Title VI complaint accusations of antisemitism

Fox News published a story describing a formal complaint filed by StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice accusing Middlebury College of failing to provide protection for Jewish students facing antisemitism on campus. 

The article, published on Feb. 16, cites a complaint from StandWithUs filed with the Department of Education in mid-January, which states that Middlebury is violating its obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide a school environment free from discrimination based on race, color or national origin. The complaint referenced several examples of the alleged “hostile campus climate for Jews,” including administrative treatment of Jewish students planning a vigil to honor victims of the Oct. 7 attack, students’ dismissed attempts to establish a Chabad organization on campus and college officials’ failure to properly handle Jewish students’ reports of antisemitic allegedly slogans on campus. 

StandWithUs is an organization that seeks to combat rising antisemitism on American college campuses and support Israel, according to its website. "We are inspired by our love of Israel, our belief that education is the road to peace, and our commitment to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people," the StandWithUs mission statement reads.  

The college responded to the Fox News story with the launch of a webpage on Tuesday, Feb. 20, titled “Middlebury’s Educational Approaches to the War in Israel and Gaza.” 

The webpage describes the college’s community standards in supporting dialogue within and across Jewish, Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian student communities on campus. It also lists the education and support services available to the Middlebury community surrounding this issue, including the Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation, the Coalition for Dismantling Antisemitism at Middlebury and the Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life. 

“We are aware of a complaint filed with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). If OCR contacts us, we will of course fully cooperate,” the college wrote in a statement to The Campus. “In the meantime, the important work of education-historical awareness, engaging across difference, groundbreaking initiatives in the area of conflict transformation and ensuring our students are supported — continues every day.”  

Neither Middlebury Chabad nor the Middlebury College Hillel organization were directly involved with filing the complaint taken up by StandWithUs. “We supported the students and responded to questions,” Rabbi Binyamin Murray, executive director of Middlebury Chabad wrote in an email to The Campus of the organization’s role in the complaint filed with StandWithUs and the Department of Education.  

The Middlebury College Hillel Board wrote in an email to The Campus that as an organization it is not taking an official position on the demands and charges made by StandWithUs. 

Both the StandWithUs complaint and an anonymous Middlebury student quoted in the Fox News article described college administrators’ disparate, discriminatory treatment toward Jewish students planning a vigil to honor victims of the Oct. 7 war and students in the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) planning a vigil for Palestinian lives. The Jewish students were told by administrators not to have a police presence at the event and to hide references to Israel, according to the complaint and the student. 

“There is no indication that the Muslim Student Association faced any such restrictions,” StandWithUs wrote. 

The Muslim Students’ Association declined to comment on their mention in the Fox News story. 

There was a police presence at the Middlebury Chabad and Jewish students’ vigil on Oct. 11, according to the Middlebury Police Department log, as well as at the MSA vigil on Nov. 9, according to club leadership.

Jewish students collaborated with the Chabad organization, based in the town of Middlebury, to plan the vigil for lives lost in Israel. Murray described how the Chabad organization supported Jewish Middlebury students in making their idea of a vigil a reality. 

“It was beautiful and an honor to be able to support the students who put their hearts and souls into the ‘Jewish Unity Vigil,’ even when they experienced repeated push back and problems from the administration to overcome,” Murray wrote. 

According to members of the Middlebury College Hillel Board, lines of communication between Hillel and the college administration have been open, and the college has been willing to speak with students who wish to do so about antisemitism on campus. 

While the Hillel board was not involved in filing the complaint with StandWithUs, the board acknowledged that Middlebury may indeed feel like a hostile environment for some Jewish people on campus. 

“Some students have expressed feelings of discomfort and have indeed felt as though they are being targeted on Middlebury’s campus; some students do not feel this way at all,” the Hillel Board wrote to The Campus. 

Murray agreed with the Title VI complaint’s assertion that there are students who are afraid to speak out about their Jewish and/or Israeli pride, and feel stigmatized for their identity. 

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“It saddens us to hear complaints from current students, as well as alumni going back decades, and we would love to see a stigma we often hear of Middlebury ‘not being a place for Jews” replaced with a campus full of Jewish pride and acceptance,’ Murray wrote. 

The StandWithUs complaint cited by Fox News described the Students for Justice in Palestine  (SJP) student organization’s actions during the Oct. 12 Day of Resistance as another example of anti-Jewish behavior on campus. 

“SJP intimidated students in a Middlebury dining hall and blocked the doors to it,” the complaint read. “Despite receiving reports of this harassment and false imprisonment, Middlebury’s administration did not enforce its own policies barring behavior that impedes another student’s ability to communicate or move freely and offered no alternative support to the impacted students.” 

Joshua Glucksman ’24.5, a member of SJP, described the allegations of SJP blocking and harassing Jewish students outside of dining halls as having been brought up and thoroughly investigated months ago. “The SJP board took this claim seriously and checked with all the tablets to make sure they didn’t harass students, and also did the due diligence of talking to administrators who informed us they were closely monitoring the club during the event and that no rules were broken,” Glucksman wrote in a message to The Campus. 

Glucksman added that as a Jewish student, he has not felt as though Middlebury is a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. 

“The only hostilities I have felt related to my Jewish identity is from Zionist Jewish students who do not support Palestinian liberation,” he wrote. 

StandWithUs also described concerns in the Fox News article about the college refusing to recognize a Chabad organization on campus, and dismissing Jewish students’ complaints about an allegedly antisemitic slogan posted on a dorm door. 

The college's newly launched Educational Approaches webpage states that the slogan, which read "from the river to the sea/Palestine will be free," is considered protected speech. "According to our Open Expression Policy, even divisive phrases like "from the river to the sea" or "settlement brings security" are protected speech," the webpage reads. "Middlebury's Open Expression Policy safeguards a learning environment "where all voices can be heard and have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.""

The college also wrote on the webpage that calls for genocide and other evidence of a hostile environment at Middlebury go against college policy. 

“Middlebury has zero tolerance for threats to individuals or groups, and all members of the Middlebury College community would be held accountable under several different policies,” the website reads. 

The website cites a number of procedures for dealing with complaints of bigotry on campus, including the Community Bias Response Team, the Civil Rights and Title IX Office, the Student Conduct Office and informal conflict transformation processes. 

The college has not received notice of a potential complaint from the Office of Civil Rights at this time, as Associate Vice President for Public Affairs Julia Ferrante wrote in response to Fox News’ request for comment on the StandWithUS complaint. 

The StandWithUs complaint summarized its issues with the college’s treatment of Jewish students on campus in four demands — first, reverse so-called punitive measures against the Jewish student who reported antisemitic words written on a dorm door, second, recognize Chabad formally as a student organization, third, fully investigate all incidents of antisemitic behavior described for violations of university policy and fourth, adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism. 

In reference to the first demand, the student whose door was posted claimed to have been doxxed with their name and room number made public by the student StandWithUs alleges was punished for reporting the slogan.

Murray expressed his efforts to continue to be a resource for Jewish students in light of the StandWithUs complaint.

“Our role is consistently to support the Jewish students at Middlebury,” he added.

Though not involved as an organization with filing the complaint, Middlebury Hillel unequivocally condemned antisemitism in its email to The Campus.

 “We urge the college to swiftly address any and all acts of discrimination,” Hillel wrote. “Hillel seeks to provide Jewish students with a space — full of empathy and understanding — to simply be.” 

The college statement conveyed pride at how Middlebury students, faculty and staff “engage peacefully, openly, constructively, regularly, and rigorously on deeply concerning issues such as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and the Israel-Hamas war.” 

“We will not tolerate and have not tolerated discriminatory behavior on our campus,” the statement reads.

Maggie Reynolds

Maggie Reynolds '24 (she/her) is the Editor in Chief.  

Maggie previously served as the Senior Local Editor, a Local Section Editor, and a Staff Writer. She spent this past J-term interning for VTDigger, covering topics from affordable housing in Addison County to town government scandals. She also interned for Seven Days VT as an arts & culture reporter summer 2022 and as a news reporter for the Daily Gazette in Schenectady, NY summer 2021.   

Maggie is majoring in History and minoring in Political Science and Spanish. She was a three-year member of the Women's Swimming and Diving team. Maggie enjoys running, hiking, and iced maple lattes.