Sarah Lawrence College hit with Title VI complaint over systemic antisemitism on campus

Student transferred out of the school after SJP-affiliated students sent him violent and threatening text messages

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BRONXVILLE, NY - FEBRUARY 12: An exterior view of Sarah Lawrence College is seen on February 12, 2020 in Bronxville, New York.

Sammy Tweedy, a college student who left Sarah Lawrence College to study at Tel Aviv University after facing relentless antisemitism at the New York school, is cited in a new complaint against the college based on violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The complaint, the latest in a string of Title VI complaints against universities since Oct. 7, was filed on Tuesday by Hillels of Westchester with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on behalf of Jewish students, Jewish Insider has learned. (Sarah Lawrence is located in Westchester County.)

It details several examples of antisemitism, both before and after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack in Israel and the subsequent rise of harassment of Jews on campus, including Tweedy’s experience receiving violent and threatening text messages. The complaint says that faculty at the Bronxville, N.Y., private college have ignored the campus’ “persistent and pervasive” antisemitism. 

According to Tweedy, after returning from a trip to Israel, members of the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine sent him messages threatening physical assault and “saying I should have been killed in Israel,” he recalled, noting that the threats were reported to the Sarah Lawrence administration, to no avail.

The complaint alleges that two days after Oct. 7, SLC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion director promoted an event hosted by the college’s SJP Chapter, “Hour of Solidarity with Palestine,” in an email sent to Hillel students and other Jewish students. The DEI director, who also serves as the faculty advisor for the SJP chapter, never mentioned in her email the Israeli victims of the Hamas massacre or the trauma experienced by Jewish students, according to the complaint. 

Another example, from 2022, cites antisemitic posts on an anonymous Sarah Lawrence  Instagram account in September of that year, which included a call-out of “Jewish American princesses” at the school, and a response in the thread that stated, “don’t forget about the dirty, money-grubbing Juden mongrels.” 

SLC’s student body is 20% Jewish, according to Hillel. But Tweedy said that “there is no tight-knit Jewish community [at Sarah Lawrence].” “Hillel meetings are very small and we’ve never been given adequate space, while SJP has been freely allowed to use space that’s designated for religious programming,” he said. “There’s a lot of shirking from and apologizing for Jewish identity [on campus] because of its association with Israel.” 

“But this is the first spark of hope in forcing the school’s hand,” Tweedy continued. 

A spokesperson for the school did not immediately respond to JI’s request for comment regarding the allegations. 

“Sarah Lawrence created a hostile environment for Jewish students through years of action and inaction – After more than 15 years of documented pleas for the College to support all facets of its Jewish community, we’ve reached a breaking point,” Rachel Klein, executive director of Hillels of Westchester, said in a statement. 

Hillels of Westchester oversees Hillel chapters on six local campuses — Sarah Lawrence College, Iona University, Manhattanville College, Pace University’s campus in Pleasantvilles, SUNY Purchase College and Westchester Community College. 

Klein told JI that Sarah Lawrence is “the only one in my 10 years [at Hillel] that I’ve seen multiple students leave because of the Jewish climate on campus.” 

“What stands out to me about this college,” she continued, “is the subtlety. The climate came to a tipping point in October of this year. But it’s a culture that I have seen over 10 years that makes it nearly impossible for someone on that campus to hold a pro Israel position.”

A Hillels of Westchester spokesperson told JI that ​​Hillels rarely file Title VI lawsuits against universities — there was one other this academic year, at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. “The severity of bias incidents at Sarah Lawrence College necessitated this action by the Hillels of Westchester to ensure Jewish students remain safe on Sarah Lawrence’s campus,” the spokesperson said. 

As a response to the rise in antisemitism on campuses following Oct. 7, the U.S. Education Department released an updated complaint form in November, making it easier to identify religious discrimination for students alleging that their civil rights had been violated under Title VI.

Baruch Weiss, partner at Arnold & Porter who serves as counsel for Hillels of Westchester, said in a statement that the investigation should bring “real remedies to the problems at Sarah Lawrence.”

“Federal law makes it very clear that colleges and universities cannot look the other way if Jewish students are being harassed, intimidated, or attacked,” Weiss said. 

Title VI requires any programs receiving federal assistance “to provide all students a school environment free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin, including shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.” 

Between Oct. 7 and Nov. 7, the Education Department’s OCR received 12 complaints of discrimination on the basis of “shared ancestry,” a department spokesperson told JI in November, noting that some complaints may allege actions prior to Oct. 7, and that there may be additional complaints that haven’t yet been logged by regional staff. Seven of the logged complaints involve antisemitism.

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