By Amir Vera and Stella Chan, CNN
The US Department of Education has opened an investigation into the University of Southern California after a student accused the university of allowing antisemitism to fester on campus, which led her to resign from her post as student government vice president, according to a Tuesday news release from a Jewish advocacy institution.
The investigation stems from a complaint filed by the The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law on behalf of Rose Ritch, who was elected student government vice president in February 2020. She ended up resigning in August 2020, according to the center.
“USC students demanded that Ms. Ritch be impeached and/or resign from the [undergraduate student government] because of her perceived ethnic Jewish identity as a ‘Zionist,'” the center’s complaint read. “Students falsely equated Ms. Ritch’s support for Israel, the Jewish homeland, with hostility towards Palestinians and thereby justified her removal from USG.”
The center accuses USC of violating Title VI — which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin — saying the school “failed to take prompt and effective steps to end the harassment and eliminate the hostile environment or prevent it from recurring.”
The Brandeis Center said harassment was severe and persistent and USC was aware of it but failed to intervene.
The DOE’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation in June 2022 regarding discrimination involving religion.
USC said in a statement the school “is proud of its culture of inclusivity for all students, including members of our Jewish community.”
The university also said it has “made a number of commitments to combat antisemitism and anti-Jewish hatred” over the last two years.
“We are continuing to take these steps to further build on the welcoming environment we have created for our Jewish community. We look forward to addressing any concerns or questions by the U.S. Department of Education regarding this matter,” the school’s statement read.
USC students labeled Ritch a Zionist, complaint says
The Brandeis Center says Ritch’s harassment began during her campaign.
“Her posters were repeatedly vandalized and the campaign posters of other Jewish students running for student senate were torn down,” the center’s release said. “Ritch was also bullied and harassed repeatedly on social media, and the ongoing and persistent harassment continued after she was elected.”
USC students also launched a social media campaign demanding Ritch’s impeachment and/or resignation, the center said, because of “her perceived ethnic Jewish identity as a ‘Zionist.'”
Zionism is the movement and support of “the self-determination and statehood for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Ritch wrote an op-ed for Newsweek where she said she openly identified as a Jew “who supports Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
Because of these beliefs, students accused Ritch of not being suitable enough to be their vice president, she wrote.
Ritch and other Jewish organizations urged USC to take action, the center said. Ritch also met with the USC president and vice president of student affairs. However, no action was taken, the center said.
The center ended up sending a letter to the university to take action and “urging the administration to take prompt steps to protect Ritch from the discriminatory harassment that sought to deny her an equal educational opportunity to serve in USG solely on the basis of her Jewish ethnic identity.”
The university did suspend Ritch’s impeachment hearing, but the center said the school failed to publicly condemn the antisemitic harassment.
The center said USC did not make a public statement condemning the harassment until after Ritch resigned in August 2020.
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CNN’s Chris Boyette contributed to this report.