There has been a huge clamor over the use of Title VI. Let’s clear the air and explain what it really means to educational institutions. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was landmark legislation that prohibited major forms of discrimination: Race, color, religion or national origin. Its Title VI provision bars violations based on race, color, or national origin (religion is excluded), and programs that receive federal funding (such as schools) can lose funding for violations. Both K-12 schools and colleges and universities depend on federal funds.
The Federal Commission on Civil Rights said that campus anti-Semitism is a “serious problem” and the U.S. Office of Civil Rights (OCR) should protect college students from anti-Semitic and other discriminatory harassment by vigorously enforcing Title VI.” Yet, ominously in 2007, OCR said that it would not respond to a complaint filed by Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine, alleging severe, pervasive and persistent anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination, because it “lacked jurisdiction” - because Title VI excluded religion as a protected class.
In 2010, persistent Jewish activism resulted, after a six-year campaign, with the U.S. Department of Education announcing that Title VI will be interpreted and enforced so that Jewish students will be protected from anti-Semitic discrimination under Title VI. The Zionist Organization of America should be applauded for leading this important fight.
In actual practice, educational institutions need to take concrete and effective steps to end harassment, intimidation, and discrimination, to prevent its recurrence, and correct a hostile environment for Jewish students. These steps should include:
• Disciplinary measures for those who commit anti-Semitic bigotry;
• Publicly labeling the incidents as anti-Semitic;
• Educating teachers and students about the dangers of anti-Semitism;
and recognizing when anti-Semitism occurs;
• Informing all students of the school’s procedures and officials when seeking redress for incidents of discrimination and harassment.
If schools take these concrete actions, Title VI becomes a guide to ensuring that schools do the right thing and schools need not fear legal actions.
For example, when a LGBT student at the University of Michigan was slurred, the University official directing the school’s office serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people immediately issued a campus-wide letter and a University Regent publicly stated, "when one member of our campus community is targeted because of his or her identity, we are all attacked".
Jewish students deserve no less protection. Title VI now gives Jewish students an important legal solution to a hostile campus environment. Campus anti-Semitism is intolerable and unacceptable – and is unquestionably a form of bullying.
Jewish students deserve the same educational environment as every student: One that is physically and emotionally safe and conducive to learning.
Sheldon L. Freilich represents the Zionist Organization of Michigan.