Today, the Brandeis Center wrote to University of Wisconsin – Madison (“UW”) Chancellor Rebecca Blank, applauding her administration for castigating the Associated Students of Madison’s controversial April 26, 2017 Student Council (“ASM”) divestment measure, and urging further action from her administration.
This past semester, the ASM introduced various versions of BDS resolutions, violating the ASM Constitution & Bylaws in the process and discriminating against and harassing Jewish students and their allies. Though the UW administration castigated the ASM’s April 26 BDS resolution, more must be done to correct the campus environment and discipline certain students. LDB urged action, including:
- Addressing the statement from former ASM Chair that “All white people are racist.” Such negative racial stereotypes are unacceptable, and is especially damaging to the campus environment when conveyed by a person with official stature, even within the student body. As explained in LDB’s Best Practice Guide, it is necessary for university leaders to exercise moral leadership by expressing their views of difficult subjects.
- Taking responsive actions consistent with UW nondiscrimination policies and Wisconsin Statute.
- Requiring orientation and training for all ASM Members on the nature of and different manifestations of anti-Semitism, and the appropriate means of addressing it. Additionally, requiring orientation and training for all new students on the nature of and different manifestations of anti-Semitism, and the appropriate means of addressing it.
- Updating the “UW Student Handbook, Policies on Accommodating Students’ Religious Beliefs” to include that the ASM Student Council should be accommodating to students’ religious beliefs.
- Creating more academic and extracurricular programming to raise community awareness about global and campus anti-Semitism, making use of valuable UW resources, such as the UW Hillel and the UW Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies.
- Adopting a uniform definition of anti-Semitism, such as the definition used by the S. State Department or the recently adopted University of California Regents’ Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, in order to avoid and properly identify anti-Semitism should it arise in the future.
The redacted text of LDB’s letter can be found below:
June 21, 2017
Chancellor Rebecca M. Blank
University of Wisconsin – Madison
161 Bascom Hall
500 Lincoln Drive
Madison, WI 53796
Dear Chancellor Blank,
We write on behalf of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, at the request of our friends at the University of Wisconsin Hillel, to applaud your administration for castigating the Associated Students of Madison’s controversial April 26, 2017 Student Council (“ASM”) divestment measure (hereinafter “Divestment Measure”) and to urge further action from your administration. The Louis D. Brandeis Center is a national public interest advocacy organization dedicated to the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and justice for all.
We appreciate your April 26, 2017 online statement that the Divestment Measure does not control the policies or practices of the University of Wisconsin – Madison (“UW”) or the UW Foundation (“WFAA”) and will not change your approach. You exercised commendable leadership by clarifying your opposition to the anti-Semitic movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (“BDS”). We further applaud the ASM Student Judiciary for voiding a discriminatory bylaw change at the April 12 ASM meeting, which took place on the Jewish holiday of Passover. The Student Judiciary properly voided the bylaw change; suggested that the former ASM Chair attend tolerance training and apologize for her discriminatory actions; and mandated the incoming ASM Chair to send a letter to the Student Council explaining why her motion to waive the rules was wrong, why the nondiscrimination clause of the ASM constitution is essential, and why Passover is important to the Jewish community.
We urge you to build on this good start, keeping in mind your important observation that Jewish students felt targeted by the ASM’s actions. You say that “UW-Madison values and welcomes members of all faiths and identities,” and we take you at your word. We ask that you demonstrate this with further actions to correct the hostile campus environment created for Jewish students on campus, and prevent such discrimination and harassment from recurring.
The comments made during and in the wake of the ASM meetings demonstrate a lack of understanding and respect for Jewish students and the Jewish religion. Some statements demonstrated gross insensitivity, at best, as well as negative ethnic and racial stereotypes. They include, for example, sweeping offensive generalizations. Jewish students present at the various ASM meetings, and students who attempted to speak up on behalf of Jewish students, felt targeted and harassed. Some of the discriminatory statements and actions that occurred include the following:
- The statements demonstrated blatant disregard for the concerns of Jewish students and for Jewish religious observance. For example, the ASM introduced a bylaw change at the April 12 meeting that fell on Passover, despite the expressed concerns of Jewish students. Furthermore, the ASM suspended its acting rules so that they could vote and pass this bylaw change at the introductory meeting, when such legislation usually requires two votes. In doing so, the ASM violated their own bylaws and the Constitutional rights of Jewish students, and demonstrated a blatant disregard for excluding Jewish students from participating. (This is the bylaw change that the Student Judiciary has since voided.)
- At the April 26th ASM meeting, ASM members carefully orchestrated a campaign to introduce BDS amendments to a resolution on human rights. They failed to give Jewish students and pro-Israel students proper notice about these planned amendments, not allowing them to come and voice their opinions and again in violation of ASM bylaws, ignoring previous concerns that Jewish students had expressed. The legislation passed. Jewish students felt harassed and intimidated at this meeting, which will be explained below.
- Also at the April 26 meeting, speakers made a variety of harassing and discriminatory comments in open forum against Jewish students and their allies, including:
- Several speakers likened Jewish students to white supremacists. For example, a student member of the organization Students for Justice in Palestine said, “Judaism is not Israel, Israel is not Judaism. This is not about the Jewish community on campus, it is about the Zionist community, and these two are mutually exclusive . . . We stand for black, brown and indigenous lives and are sick of being silenced by your white supremacist voice” (see Audio of April 26 ASM Meeting, beginning at 1:26:12). In this problematic statement, the speaker denied the fact that Israel is central to Jewish identity and likened all statements that come from non-black, brown, or indigenous people as statements coming from white supremacists. She essentially lumped together all individuals against this legislation, a great majority of whom were Jewish, into one group and labeled them White Supremacists.
- Comments by several speakers dismissed the realities of anti-Semitism. For example, a UW alumnus and former Equity & Inclusion Chair spoke at the meeting. He pulled out a copy of the Badger Herald, stating, “The Badger Herald put out a very misleading headline on one of its infographics, it said ‘Anti-Semitic divestment from Israel initiatives scorecard . . . ’” [interrupted by Chair, saying his time was up]. The alum continued, referring to the article – “that’s not true.” He proceeded to rip up the newspaper (see Audio at 1:12:44).
- Several students sought to intimidate the Jewish students in the room by changing the direction of the podium to face the small group of Jewish students who were sitting together, and directing their comments at the Jewish students. One student said, “clearly I’d like to address the elephant in the room . . . clearly I’m talking to you” looking directly at [name redacted] (see Audio at 1:19).
- Comments by one student demonstrated complete insensitivity to Jewish students’ religious beliefs and cultural practices. Representative and Student Activity Center Governing Board Chair [name redacted] (who will be next year’s ASM Chair), stated: “It’s funny how…. You say you’re here for transparency, but then we bring legislation for it on April 12 meeting that calls for just that you’re against it cuz its on Passover? Even though there is no university policy that requires ASM to observe holidays” (see Audio at 1:45:38).
- Students acted disrespectfully when Jewish students, or their allies, attempted to speak. For example, after ASM members introduced their carefully orchestrated BDS amendments, there was debate on the amendments. Chair [name redacted] spoke for the first time, expressing concern with the amendments, asking to what extent the ASM could add amendments that were similar, if not the same, to legislation that was tabled indefinitely at the March 29th When she finished speaking, lots of Pepsi cans were opened in what appeared to be a coordinated effort. Some ASM members opened the cans directly into their microphones. (Someone brought several cases of Pepsi to the meeting and Representative [name redacted] handed the cans out to ASM members. Pepsi has come to symbolize “white supremacy” and trivializing the struggle of Black Lives Matter movement following a heavily criticized Pepsi commercial.) Opening the Pepsi cans in unison was likening [name redacted] to a white supremacist, and signaling that anything she said was erasing the struggle of brown, black, and people of color bodies (see Audio at 2:54:32).
- After [name redacted] spoke, Representative [name redacted] spoke in a mocking tone – seemingly against [name redacted] – in favor of the amendment. Then Vice Chair [name redacted] (acting as Chair, because Chair [name redacted] passed over her Chairship to the Vice Chair so that she could participate fully in debate, even though a Chair is meant to preside and not debate) asked for any other points of debate on the amendment. Chair [name redacted] said, “Sorry this Pepsi is kickin’ [took a sip] . . . Fuck White Supremacy.” The response in the room was cheering and clapping (see Audio at 2:55:00).
- Students expressed lack of respect for the voices and opinions of Jewish students and those who associate with them. When [name redacted] spoke again, she said “this is now, I guess, the second time that the Jewish community has been excluded. This is because members who co-sponsored this legislation and other members who spoke tonight knew full well that there would be amendments presented and voting members of this body did not know that, and that is undemocratic. I stand firm by that. It was undemocratic to hold a vote knowing full well that people would not be in attendance. Nobody on this body gets to decide at what point that information stopped being relevant to the Jewish community. . . . This has crossed the line from legitimate conversation to a point where I consider it malicious… this has now been over a month of ASM harassing the Jewish community on this campus, I’m ashamed of this body….” [Name redacted] was interrupted with screaming. Someone shouted “Undemocratic like you” (see Audio beginning 3:04:18). When [name redacted], a non-Jewish ASM Representative and ally of the Jewish students, spoke against the legislation, he was met with someone screaming “shut up.” When he finished speaking, another Pepsi can was opened (see Audio at 3:06:19).
- Students expressed anti-white sentiment, anti-Jewish sentiment, and anti-Semitic-masked-as-anti-Israel sentiment after the April 26th meeting, as well (see attached LDB Fact Sheet on the Elements of Anti-Semitism). For example:
- ASM Chair [name redacted] announced that “All White People are racist” in a public letter to the Campus Community (See Letter from former ASM Chair [name redacted], “My Last Words as Chair of ASM,” Appendix 1).
- On April 27, Representative [name redacted], (who will be next year’s ASM Chair) sent an “apology” to the ASM for her behavior at the April 26th meeting, but she failed to acknowledge why excluding Jewish students was a problem. She wrote: “I apologize for the way I communicated my opinion’s at last night’s meeting. I fully recognize that I actively shut down opposing points of view by yelling and screaming . . . I am sorry for not expressing myself constructively.” Nine minutes later, she followed up with a second email saying, “Follow up: please don’t interpret this as me apologizing for what I said. I am apologizing for how I said it.” (See screenshot, Appendix 2).
- A Jewish student member of the group “Badgers United Against Hate,” a pro-Israel group, received the following Facebook message: “yo fuck israel and fuck their war crimes and fuck zionism in palestine it’s racist and so are you” (see screenshot, Appendix 3).
- When the names of ASM Representatives for next year were announced, a Jewish student who will be an ASM Member next year received the following Facebook message: “hey israel is a shit racist country and asm is shit racist org and i swear i will boycott every asm meeting just becaus you are their you racist zionist shit.” (See screenshot, Appendix 4.)
Some of these revive anti-Semitic, anti-white, and discriminatory tropes. While we respect the right of students to express themselves, even outrageously or hurtfully, we are concerned that such bigotry could create an environment that many of your students will reasonably perceive to be hostile.
We urge your administration to exercise its obligation to address the harms that arise when speakers – especially campus leaders – misuse that right in ways that poison the environment and send a message of exclusion and hate. Such messages are potentially incompatible with federal civil rights law.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs that receive federal funds. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has announced that Title VI applies to discrimination on the basis of Jewish ethnicity or ancestry in guidance issued in 2004 (see attached Kenneth L. Marcus, Dear Colleague Letter (Sep. 13, 2004)). In 2010, OCR clarified that unlawful harassment need not include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents (see attached Russlynn Ali, Dear Colleague Letter (Oct. 26, 2010)). Speech that invokes anti-Semitic stereotypes against Israelis and Jews can create a hostile environment for Israeli and Jewish students on campus in violation of Title VI.
Chancellor Blank, your administration acknowledged that “UW-Madison values and welcomes members of all faiths and identities.” The messages here are incompatible with UW’s values. Further, they are against school rules and state law. The UW Student Handbook prohibits “members of the university community from engaging in any form of unlawful discrimination or harassment . . .” Wisconsin State Statue prohibits student discrimination: “No student may be denied . . . participation in or the benefits of, or be discriminated against in any service, program, course or facility of the system or its institutions because of the student’s race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin . . . .” Further, “[t]he missions of the University of Wisconsin System and its individual institutions can be realized only if the university’s teaching, learning, research and service activities occur in living and learning environments that are safe and free from violence, harassment . . . disruption and intimidation. In promoting such environments, the university has a responsibility to address student nonacademic misconduct . . . .”
We encourage you to take appropriate responsive actions, such as taking necessary disciplinary action in line with your important policies; providing necessary training and education to students and faculty members on your campus; speak out against such discrimination, and more. We further hope that you seize this as a teachable moment to educate your students about anti-Semitism, racism, inclusion, and tolerance. The following may provide a good start:
- The statement from former ASM Chair [name redacted] that “All white people are racist” must be addressed. Such negative racial stereotypes are unacceptable, and is especially damaging to the campus environment when conveyed by a person with official stature, even within the student body. As explained in LDB’s Best Practice Guide (see attached), it is necessary for university leaders to exercise moral leadership by expressing their views of difficult subjects. A good example of a strong leadership statement was seen by UCLA Vice Chancellor Janina Montero, in which she issued a statement to her university community in response to anti-Semitic Facebook postings by a UCLA student, stating in part that the “hurtful and offensive comments displayed ignorance of the history and racial diversity of the Jewish people, insensitivity and a disappointing lack of empathy. Bigotry against the Jewish people or other groups is abhorrent and does not represent the values of UCLA or the beliefs of our community.”
- Ensure that the May 10th ASM Student Judiciary Ruling, which voided the “Bylaw Change for the Creation of Financial Transparency and Ethics Subcommittee,” and required disciplinary sanctions for certain ASM members, is enforced.
- Take responsive actions consistent with your policies and Wisconsin Statute. For example, see Stats., Section 36.12 (1) – “Student discrimination prohibited” – and Wis. Stats. Chapter 17 – “Student Nonacademic Disciplinary Procedures.”
- In addition to training that the ASM holds for itself, set a policy to provide training to ASM members to ensure the Code of Conduct is enforced.
- Require orientation and training for all ASM Members on the nature of and different manifestations of anti-Semitism, and the appropriate means of addressing it. Additionally, require orientation and training for all new students on the nature of and different manifestations of anti-Semitism, and the appropriate means of addressing it.
- Update the “UW Student Handbook, Policies on Accommodating Students’ Religious Beliefs” to include that the ASM Student Council should be accommodating to students’ religious beliefs.
- We commend your administration for your engagement with Hillel and Jewish community leaders. As a best practice, continue to reach out to targeted student groups, local community leaders, and experts, including UW Hillel and the Jewish Federation of Madison, and offer support and resources as needed.
- Create and fund meaningful programs that bring communities of identity together, including the Jewish community.
- Create more academic and extracurricular programming to raise community awareness about global and campus anti-Semitism, making use of valuable UW resources, such as the UW Hillel and the UW Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies.
- Adopt a uniform definition of anti-Semitism, such as the definition used by the U.S. State Department (see attached) or the recently adopted University of California Regents’ Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, in order to avoid and properly identify anti-Semitism should it arise in the future.
We urge you to take these actions to remedy the current situation, and lower the likelihood that anti-Semitic discrimination will recur. We are available to share our expertise on these issues, and further discuss our recommendations with you, and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (202) 559-9296.
Thank you in advance for your serious consideration of this matter.
Kenneth L. Marcus
President & General Counsel
The Louis D. Brandeis Center
for Human Rights Under Law
Director of Legal Initiatives
The Louis D. Brandeis Center
for Human Rights Under Law
Executive Director, UW Hillel
Cheryl Rosen Weston
Board Chair, UW Hillel
Sarah C. Mangelsdorf
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, UW-Madison
Vice Provost for Student Life and Dean of Students, UW-Madison
Letter from former ASM Chair [name redacted], “My Last Words as Chair of ASM:”
 See “Student Discrimination Prohibited,” http://uwc.edu/sites/uwc.edu/files/imce-uploads/students/handbook-policies/_files/wisstat36.pdf
 See Section 36.12 (1), Wis. Stats – “Student Discrimination Prohibited,” available at http://uwc.edu/sites/uwc.edu/files/imce-uploads/students/handbook-policies/_files/wisstat36.pdf.
 See Section 17.01, Wis. Stats. – “Student Nonacademic Disciplinary Procedures,” available at https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/code/admin_code/uws/17.
See “Accommodating Students’ Religious Beliefs,” http://uwc.edu/sites/uwc.edu/files/imce-uploads/students/handbook-policies/_files/religion.pdf.