NEW PALTZ – Two Jewish SUNY New Paltz students who were kicked out of a sexual assault awareness group and say they were cyberbullied, harassed and threatened because of their Jewish and Israeli identitiesfiled a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office.
The complaint alleges that the college was aware of the situation, but in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, allowed a hostile environment to proliferate on campus for Jewish survivors of sexual assault, in point that the two students did not feel safe to attend. class and said they felt ‘shunned’, ‘isolated’ and ‘fearful’.
The lawsuit was filed by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law on behalf of the students and the Jewish on Campus group.
The complaint says the students were victimized on three occasions – first by sexual predators, second, by the anti-Zionist leaders of a support group who expelled the students, and third, by the college, which did not failed to hold accountable those who had discriminated against the students and failed to satisfactorily address the hostile climate on campus for Jewish survivors of sexual assault.
The college released a statement in response to the complaint:
SUNY New Paltz has provided access to resources and support for those affected by the events of the past year and we continue our active engagement to support our Jewish students and employees in the face of rising anti-Semitism, to address issues of anti-Semitism and prejudice when they arise, and to continue dialogue and educational efforts. As a public institution, we value the First Amendment and support the free exchange of ideas.
We unequivocally condemn any attack on Jewish students at SUNY, and we will not tolerate anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation on campus.
The issue came to light in December when Cassandra Blotner posted a message on her personal Instagram account that read, “Jews are an ethnic group that originated from Israel. This is proven by genealogical, historical and archaeological evidence. Israel is not a “colonial” state and Israelis are not “settlers”. You cannot colonize the land where your ancestors came from.
Members of the group, New Paltz Accountability, founded by Blotner and other students, founded to fight sexual assault, denounced the message and asked Blotner to defend his opinions, arguing that his personal message “concerns the organization in general”.
Ofek Preis, another NPA member who is a Jewish-Israeli student, shared on her personal Instagram account the same message that Blotner posted. Soon after, the group stopped contacting her about the organization’s activities and blocked her access.
According to the claim, the NPA began issuing statements doubling down on its position and made it clear to Preis and through several Instagram posts, that the group was only open to those who reject Zionism.
The complaint alleges that “the ensuing behavior and harassment had a detrimental impact and created a hostile environment for the entire community of Jewish and Israeli survivors of sexual assault at SUNY New Paltz.
The complaint said the Jewish Student Union explained how the university’s half measures and empty rhetoric “signal that anti-Semitism is acceptable on campus and that the values of tolerance and inclusion of the university do not apply to survivors of Jewish sexual assault.
“Excommunicating and excluding Jewish and Israeli survivors from the NPA robs us of our right to fight sexual assault on college campuses and hold our universities accountable,” Preis said.