Two Jewish employees at Stanford University have filed a complaint at the federal and state levels against the university for allegedly allowing persistent anti-Jewish harassment related to a weekly program designed to explore institutional racism, according to a June 15 statement by The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which is representing the employees.
The complaint accuses the university's Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) division of a hostile environment for Jews in its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. The complaint was filed on May 21 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
The plaintiffs want Stanford to come into compliance with Title VII of the state's Fair Housing and Employment Act by ensuring that Jewish students receive the same level of clinical care and attention as other students and to revise the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program so the curriculum specifically addresses the multiple manifestations of antisemitism, among other remedies.
In January 2020, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program set up separate "affinity groups" based on race, which were supposed to help clinicians and staff explore cultural biases and better understand cultural and racial groups, which would aid their clinical work. One affinity group was designated for white people and a separate group was for people of color. The groups were assigned to read and discuss the book "White Fragility," with the white group having a separate, structured space to "process reaction" to the book, according to the complaint.
The white group was to explore its racial privilege in a "whiteness accountability" group. Employees Dr. Ronald Albucher and Sheila Levin objected to being forced into the white group, which doesn't account for their primary identities as Jews and didn't consider the historical and personal experiences of Jews with ethnic and religious prejudice, when it lumped them in with those who are perceived as white, they said in their complaint. Albucher is a staff psychiatrist in the Counseling & Psychological Services division where he was the director for nine years until 2017 and is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School. Levin has worked as the clinical care manager/eating disorder specialist at CAPS for the last 13 years.
The white affinity group was eventually named the "Whiteness Accountability" group and was intended for "staff who hold privilege via white identity and who want to explore how the advantages of whiteness interact with their identities, with their work and in the world," the complaint quotes from the program's announcement.
The announcement also identified the white affinity group as being for staff who are "white identified, may be newly grappling with or realizing their white identity, or identify as or are perceived as white."
Levin and Albucher say that characterization doesn't jibe with Jewish experience and identity by labeling all Jews as white. Levin, for example, identifies strongly as Jewish and does not feel an affinity for "white" identity, yet her supervisors allegedly pressured her to participate in the segregated white group.
The complaint redacts the names and titles of the committee members and supervisory staff. Levin told a committee or staff member that she was uncomfortable participating in the white affinity group, but she was denied any other options if she wanted to be "part of a collegial environment at Counseling & Psychological Services." Other than providing empathetic listening, there wasn't anything else that could be done, she was told, according to the complaint.
Albucher was also allegedly harassed and intimidated multiple times over the course of more than a year.
"Meeting participants, treating all Jews as white, implied that Dr. Albucher had inherent privilege," the complaint states.
Albucher spoke to a supervisor or committee member about his concerns that the program was treating all individuals who are perceived as white, including Jews, "as a monolithic group of privileged people who unconsciously contribute to systemic racism," the complaint said.
The CAPS and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program also allegedly ignored instances of overt antisemitism and sidelined any discussion of behaviors that were offensive and intimidating to its Jewish members, the complaint said.
On May 16, 2020, hackers conducted a racist and antisemitic "Zoom bombing" of a virtual town hall meeting for the Stanford community hosted by "The People's Caucus," a slate of minority-group candidates in the Associated Students of Stanford University's Undergraduate Senate election. An unknown person or persons hijacked the meeting with racist audio messages and images of swastikas and weapons, using the "N-word." The incident caused widespread distress among participants, according to the complaint.
Yet when Levin expressed to her co-workers in her clinical team that she was outraged by the incident and expressions of hatred at Stanford, they allegedly ostracized her and accused her of "possessing the privilege — that they insisted people of color do not possess — of feeling outraged about racism," according to the complaint. Levin was not allowed to be part of their collegial work group on the basis of her perceived race and national origin; they insisted she discuss her concerns only with her white colleagues in the "white affinity" group rather than with her clinical team.
When Albucher and Levin attended the May 20, 2020 seminar just days after the Zoom bombing, committee members discussed the racist and anti-Black content of the incident but did not address the antisemitism and antisemitic images that had been displayed during the attack. The group allegedly dismissed Albucher's concerns regarding the omission of any discussion about the antisemitic content and accused him of attempting to derail the agenda's focus on anti-Black racism. Group members allegedly justified the omission by insisting that unlike other minority groups, "Jews can hide behind their white identity," the complaint said.
"After this meeting, Dr. Albucher and Ms. Levin were subjected to anti-Jewish stereotypes. Participants invoked the antisemitic trope that Jews are wealthy and powerful business owners. (They) reasoned that because Jews, unlike other minority groups. possess privilege and power, Jews and victims of Jew-hatred do not merit or necessitate the attention of the … committee," the complaint noted.
In a second rebuff of antisemitic concerns, the committee also neglected to discuss swastikas drawn inside Stanford's Memorial Church in July 2020; a group facilitator said they would discuss the incident only if they had time to do so, but they never did. And this past January, members of the committee allegedly promoted antisemitic narratives at an event for predoctoral students about internship and training opportunities at CAPS, according to the complaint.
Stanford allegedly has not taken any meaningful steps to address Albucher and Levin's complaints. In mid-Apri, more than a year after persistent complaints by Albucher and Levin, Stanford informed Albucher that it intends to investigate his concerns as a "confidential HR matter" — after receiving notice from the Education Department that a federal discrimination complaint had been filed, according to the complaint. Last month, the university finally referred Levin's discrimination complaints to Employee Labor Relations in Human Resources.
The complaint calls those actions only protective of Stanford and that they fall short.
"The university's failure to take prompt and effective steps to address the anti-Jewish hostility in the DEI program has broader ramifications. The DEI program trains those who provide mental health counseling to Stanford students. When the DEI program ignores antisemitic incidents on campus and spreads the antisemitic canard that Jews have 'immense power and privilege,' it teaches the Stanford mental health professionals to dismiss as inconsequential the mental health consequences antisemitic incidents have on Jewish students. Such training inevitably harms the mental health professional's ability to provide equal, unbiased, effective service to Stanford's Jewish students," the complaint states.
"The very program that is supposed to facilitate the full inclusion of all members of the Stanford community is now undermining that goal, perpetrating the very invidious discrimination that it is meant to eliminate," the plaintiffs said in the complaint.
Antisemitic incidents in the U.S. have skyrocketed over the past month since hostilities erupted between Palestinians and Israel on May 6, according to the Brandeis Center.
"We have been deluged with messages from students and professors about incidents of antisemitism on campuses across the U.S. It is the worst possible time for Stanford to have decided not to prepare its mental health professionals to deal with this problem," Denise Katz-Prober, director of legal initiatives at the Brandeis Center, stated in the June 15 statement.
The complaint also asks that Stanford develop policies and procedures to prevent the use of adverse racial stereotypes and train the Stanford community on the policies; issue a public statement condemning antisemitism and demonization that excludes members of the community based on their Jewish identity; revise its nondiscrimination policies to include a prohibition on discrimination based on actual or perceived shared ancestry and ethnicity and adverse racial stereotyping, along with requiring mandatory policy training. The complaint also asks for monetary relief of an undisclosed sum to be paid to Albucher.
Stanford University has not responded to a request for comment.