By Sarina Deb
Two Jewish Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) counselors filed complaints with state and federal civil rights agencies accusing the University of promoting antisemitism through a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training program. The counselors allege that they were subject to verbal harassment and antisemitic tropes by training staff and participants.
Psychiatrist and former CAPS director Ronald Albucher and former clinical care manager and eating disorder specialist Sheila Levin alleged that the CAPS DEI program “created and fostered a hostile work environment for Jewish staff due to severe and persistent harassment” in their Tuesday complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
The complaint seeks financial damages as well as a thorough investigation and overhaul of Stanford’s policies. It also requests the adoption of a statement that equates anti-Zionism with antisemitism.
In a statement to The Daily, a University spokesperson wrote, “Stanford is deeply committed to nurturing a diverse and inclusive work environment, one free from harassment and discrimination of any kind. We take complaints of this nature very seriously. We followed our process and have an ongoing investigation into this matter. Stanford forcefully rejects antisemitism in all its forms.”
The spokesperson also noted that although DEI programs at Stanford have traditionally been managed by individual units the University will be launching a centralized DEI learning program this summer to ensure consistency.
CAPS director Bina Patel declined to comment on the complaint, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.
The complaint, which was filed by Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law on behalf of Levin and Albucher, states that through weekly seminars and “racially segregated affinity groups” for its program, the DEI committee “maligned and marginalized Jews, by castigating them as powerful and privileged perpetrators who contribute to systemic racism.” Specifically, Levin and Albucher allege that the program excluded antisemitism from the program’s agenda, ignored them when they raised concerns about the program’s failure to discuss antisemitism and advanced antisemitic tropes about Jewish power and control.
The harassment started when Jewish staff were pressured into joining the DEI program’s racially segregated “whiteness accountability” affinity groups created for “staff who hold privilege via white identity,” according to the complaint. There was no affinity group for Jewish staff. Levin, who said she did not “feel an affinity” with white identity due to her Jewish heritage, was told that she needed to participate in the white affinity group.
“My people were murdered because we were seen as contaminants to the white race, so being told that I would have to identify and have commonality with people who systematically imposed genocide on Jews was very triggering to me,” Levin told The Daily. “Being told to identify with the oppressor felt like a betrayal to my family.”
Alyza D. Lewin, the lead attorney for the complainants, added, “The problem with the DEI program as it was implemented by the CAPS program is that it essentially ignored or erased Jewish identity.”
“There was no space for these individuals to share or express their lived identity, to share the richness of their Jewish ancestral heritage, which includes not only a complex ethnic and historic component but also includes the fact that Jews have historically experienced discrimination and oppression as a people,” Lewin said.
The complaint also alleges that Stanford failed to respond to at least two antisemitic incidents that occurred on campus. In one incident last spring, Zoom bombers hijacked a virtual town hall for the Stanford community by displaying pictures of swastikas and weapons and using the N-word.
According to Albucher, during a CAPS seminar shortly after the incident, DEI committee members addressed the anti-Black racism during the Zoom bombing but did not mention the antisemitic images that were displayed. Levin says that when she expressed to her co-workers that she was outraged about the incident, they “ostracized and verbally harassed her by accusing her of possessing the privilege of feeling outraged about racism.”
The complaint also states that when Albucher inquired about the failure to address antisemitism, the DEI committee stated that they decided to “omit any mention of antisemitism as to not dominate the discussion of anti-Black racism.”
“I brought up at that meeting, well it’s not a zero-sum game, there’s room for discussion of both,” Albucher said. “I thought, why not postpone the antisemitism discussion to the following week rather than deleting it? The response to that was that Jews are already a privileged group and they, therefore, did not need to discuss or educate others on this.”
In the second incident, when swastikas were discovered inside Memorial Church in July 2020, the DEI committee failed to address the antisemitic images, with a facilitator stating that the committee would address the incident “only if it had time to do so,” the complaint states.
Levin and Albucher also said that they were subject to antisemitic tropes that Jews were “rich, white and powerful” and contributed to systemic racism throughout the DEI seminar series.
“This kind of trope that was being promoted that Jews are wealthy, white and privileged, is really an age-old trope,” Levin said. “I’m older and my parents survived World War II, so to hear the same trope that the Nazis used to justify genocide in a discussion that was supposed to be centered around DEI was horrifying to me.”
According to the complaint, Albucher felt unsafe attending future programming and was “effectively forced out of the DEI seminar.” Likewise, Levin stopped attending the white affinity group shortly after.
The counselors allege that as a result of Stanford’s failure to remedy their harassment, the University has violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of the employee’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
After multiple complaints by both Levin and Albucher and after receiving notice that from the Department of Education that a federal discrimination complaint was filed against the University, Stanford informed Albucher that it intended to investigate his concerns as a “confidential HR matter,” while referring Levin’s complaint to the Employee Labor Relations in Human Resources, according to the complaint document.
“So far I have been disappointed with the actions of the University,” Albucher said. “My colleague Sheila and I have been raising concerns about the DEI program since last spring, and it’s disappointing that this has had to go on for so long.”
Jewish student and junior class president Ali Cohen ’23 said she supported Levin and Albucher’s complaint and was “appalled” by the University’s failure to address antisemitism.
“I feel like there’s a tension here between acknowledging that white American Jews will never experience the same level or depth of oppression or marginalization that Black Americans experience, and simultaneously acknowledging this is another incident in which Stanford as an institution has chosen not to acknowledge or make a big deal out of antisemitic hate crimes,” Cohen said. “I feel frustrated with the assumption from the institution that in order to uplift the voices of one marginalized group, you have to suppress the voices of another.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Equal Housing will investigate the complaint against Stanford and make recommendations.