October 13, 2019

Education Department, Williams College Come to Resolution

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The Department of Education (ED) and Williams College agreed to a resolution over the investigation regarding a pro-Israel student group being initially blocked from being recognized on campus, according to Williams College Director of Media Relations Greg Shook.

George Mason University Professor David Bernstein filed a complaint to the ED’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on May 2 stating that the Williams College Council (CC) violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act when it voted against recognizing Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI) as Registered Student Organization (RSO) on April 23. Bernstein argued that WIFI’s RSO status was denied despite complying with the CC’s bylaws; yet the CC recognized Students for Justice in Palestine as an RSO.

“Refusal to recognize Williams Initiative for Israel as a recognized student organization on the same terms as the CC has recognized dozens of other student groups constituted discrimination against Jewish students at Williams on the basis of ethnicity or race,” Bernstein wrote.

The ED told Bernstein on May 31 that they would be investigating his complaint; on July 11, Shook said in an email that the OCR didn’t find any evidence that the CC violated Title VI when it blocked WIFI from obtaining RSO status. However, OCR and Williams College agreed to a resolution to ensure that WIFI would be treated fairly going forward, according to Shook.

“Williams will ensure that College Council, first, affords WIFI the same rights and privileges as any other Council-approved RSO; and, second, evaluates WIFI’s future requests for financial assistance and other benefits fairly, and allocates resources in a nondiscriminatory manner,” Shook said. “OCR provided helpful advice to develop this resolution and plan, and we’re grateful for their partnership.”

Bernstein told the Journal in an email he thought that the resolution was “a great step forward in that it shows that both OCR and Williams College acknowledge that there is no place for anti-Semitic discrimination against Jewish-led student groups disguised as anti-Zionism.”

President Maud Mandel issued a statement on May 3 saying she was “disappointed” in the CC’s “political” vote denying WIFI RSO recognition. On May 14, a committee of college administrators and council representatives voted to recognize WIFI as an RSO, thus giving WIFI the same access to campus resources as all other student groups.

StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department Director Yael Lerman said in a statement to the Journal, “StandWithUs thanks the Office of Civil Rights for taking the time to investigate the Williams College matter and take allegations of anti-Semitism seriously. We appreciate that OCR is looking into protecting Jewish students facing discrimination. We hope that this will be a deterrent to those looking to spread hatred and misinformation against Jews and pro-Israel students.”

This article has been updated.