University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella’s response to the opening of a Department of Education investigation shows a refusal to take seriously the concerns of Jewish students. The statement gaslights the Jewish community by claiming that the university, not the Jewish community, is the victim in this situation.
While it is true that the opening of an Office for Civil Rights investigation does not inherently mean wrongdoing, it must be recognized that the OCR does not open an investigation into just any complaint.
While President Garimella acknowledged that “[o]ur work in understanding and eliminating antisemitism will never be complete,” his response thus far demonstrates a preference for denialism and defensiveness instead of genuine concern and willingness to listen to a minority on his campus. This can hardly inspire confidence among UVM’s Jewish community that their future concerns will be taken seriously.
Garimella asserts that there “was no evidence” that a rock-throwing incident “was motivated by antisemitic bias,” notwithstanding the rock throwers were targeting a Hillel building and shouted “Are you Jewish?” when one of the students in the building asked them to stop.
Similarly, the President seeks to evade responsibility by claiming “Empowering Survivors UVM” wasn’t a recognized student organization. No one claimed it was, but that doesn’t exonerate the university. The fact remains that the student organization was a university-wide movement, “the largest and most impactful support group on campus,” composed of UVM students, which was creating a deeply hostile environment for Jewish students.
Additionally, vague references to “prompt action to ensure that the objectionable statements [of a university teaching assistant] did not adversely impact students in the classroom” will not exonerate UVM. This is particularly so given that this teaching assistant remained in their position, notwithstanding the harassment of Jewish students outside the classroom.
CAMERA on Campus expresses its support for the UVM Jewish community and urges the UVM administration to reconsider its response.