From The Community | Why we filed a discrimination complaint against Stanford

Aug. 3, 2021, 6:19 p.m.

Ronald Albucher is a psychiatrist and former CAPS director. Sheila Levin is a former clinical care manager for CAPS and an eating disorder specialist.The two filed complaints in June with state and federal civil rights agencies against the University, alleging Stanford of promoting antisemitism through a diversity, equity and inclusion training program.

As psychotherapists, we strongly support diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. When offered the opportunity to participate in Stanford’s Counseling Program’s (CAPS) DEI training to become better allies to other marginalized groups, we were excited to dive in. Unfortunately, what we found was that the very program meant to help build an inclusive environment for all members of the Stanford community was, in fact, perpetrating the invidious discrimination it sought to eliminate.

Shortly after the DEI program began, we began observing that, in fact, CAPS staff intentionally overlooked anti-Semitic incidents on campus. Not only did we notice repeated instances in which anti-Semitic symbols were intentionally excluded from the dialogue, but we also witnessed overt anti-Semitism expressed by several leaders of the CAPS DEI committee. For example, in our DEI meeting we were scheduled to discuss a Zoom-bombing incident during which swastikas and weapons were drawn onscreen and the N-word was repeated multiple times. In the discussion of this event, however, DEI committee leaders decided to omit the swastikas, stating that they did not want anti-Semitism to dominate the discussion, since Jews are wealthy business owners. When more swastikas were discovered in Memorial Church, DEI facilitators said we would discuss this incident only if time permitted. Yet, there was no further mention of this blatant expression of anti-Semitism. Failing to even acknowledge the very images used to promote Jewish genocide, especially during a DEI training, is deeply concerning. After all, as history has shown time and time again, silence is complicity. The deafening silence by CAPS’s DEI program was far scarier than the swastikas themselves.

Even within the DEI Program, we personally experienced instances of overt anti-Semitism. For example, when one of us reached out to express interest in becoming a better ally to other marginalized groups, one DEI leader responded by calling out Jewish “immense power and privilege” and stating, “you are a part [sic] of the systemic racism and oppression that takes place in this country.” The irony in these false stereotypes is that they have been used to promote conspiracy theories throughout history to justify Jewish persecution and genocide. And as an immigrant daughter of two World War II survivors, hearing the very tropes the Nazis used to justify Jewish genocide used in a DEI meeting was shocking and appalling.

We attempted to work with leadership first within CAPS, then within Vaden, then with Stanford Human Resources, and finally at the level of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs and the Chair of the Stanford Department of Psychiatry. Navigating the various levels of bureaucracy took us nearly a year and a half. During that time, we saw continued evidence of anti-Semitism from several leaders of the DEI committee and silence from colleagues and supervisors.

When our early attempts to work within the system did not succeed, we contacted the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a legal advocacy group in Washington, D.C., whose mission is to advance the civil and human rights of the Jewish people. We sought the Brandeis Center’s guidance in our efforts to convince Stanford that anti-Semitism is a real, ongoing threat, that it is harmful to Jews and to the effort to create a truly inclusive DEI program, and that it negatively affects Jewish and Israeli students who might seek care at CAPS. Since the University failed to address the problem despite our months-long efforts, we filed, with the Brandeis Center’s assistance, a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Without question it would have been easier to remain silent. The decision to file our complaint knowing colleagues we have worked with for several decades may see it as an act of disloyalty weighed heavily upon us. Yet we knew we had an obligation to do so. If we stay silent during a DEI discussion where Hitler’s words are repurposed, we are complicit in bigotry and stereotyping that threatens all minorities. As Jews we repeat the phrase “never again.” We will never again stand passively by while any group of people is at risk.

Thus, we write to The Daily today to curb the false stereotypes surrounding Jews. If we stand idly by while such claims employ the very same rhetoric that has caused Jewish persecution through the ages, we risk becoming victims of hatred and violence once again. We deeply believe that DEI training at Stanford should be diverse, equitable and inclusive of all marginalized groups. Spouting anti-Semitic tropes merely supports white supremacy, endangering us all.

— Ronald Albucher and Sheila Levin

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