Ohio State accused of ‘pervasive’ Jew-hatred in Title VI complaint
n aerial view of the main campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus.
(Photo: J. Jessee via Wikimedia Commons.)

The university attracted the attention of three Jewish nonprofits ‘because of the egregious nature of the physical assaults on Jewish students.’

By David Swindle
April 9, 2024

(JNS) —The Ohio State University has been dismissive towards concerns of Jewish and Israeli students, depriving them of the ability to participate fully in university life, amid an “antisemitic hostile environment that is now pervasive” at the university, three Jewish organizations that fight antisemitism allege.

The Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs and Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law released their joint complaint on Tuesday. The three groups are urging the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the state university until Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act if Ohio State does not agree to mediation and if the mediation is unsuccessful.

Under the 1964 law, universities that receive federal funding cannot discriminate against students on the basis of “shared ancestry,” including Jewish identity.

“This case attracted our attention early on because of the egregious nature of the physical assaults on Jewish students and their mistreatment at the university hospital,” Rachel Lerman, vice chair and general counsel at the Brandeis Center, told JNS.

“One student, who had a broken jaw, gave up on trying to be seen there and got medical attention elsewhere, at his own expense. No one at the university ever followed up with the victims, who continue to suffer from their experience,” Lerman said.

Among the examples of Jew-hated on the Ohio State campus since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that the trio cites are: physical assaults, verbal taunts, threats, graffiti and removal of hostage posters. 

In November, one Jewish student was left with a broken nose and another with a broken jaw after an antisemitic assault. The attackers, who fled the scene, said “Free Palestine” and attacked the two, and three other Jews, after learning that the five were Jewish, per the complaint.

“Unfortunately for the Jewish students, the horrors of that night did not end there,” the complaint alleges. It notes that only one student, who was “bleeding profusely and needed immediate medical care” was seen at the university’s medical center, and he was only allowed to bring one guest. 

“The other Jewish students, including the other student who had been violently assaulted, were made to wait outside in the freezing cold for over five hours, while their friend sought immediate medical care,” the complaint adds. “The Jewish students, who had just been assaulted for their Jewish identity mere steps from campus, were now denied entrance into their own university’s hospital waiting room.”

They weren’t even allowed to charge their phones in the hospital lobby, to facilitate contacting others, per the complaint.

The student who was not seen learned after flying home “at considerable expense” that he had a fractured jaw.

Continue to be harassed by students’

Ohio State, which was founded in 1870 and which U.S. News & World Report ranks in a tie for 43rd among national universities, has one of the largest enrollments of any U.S. college or university.

The public school has 2,777 undergraduate Jewish students (6.2% of undergraduates) and 350 Jewish graduate students (2.4%)—the 23rd largest student population at a public university, according to Hillel.

“Ohio State has never—and will never—tolerate discrimination or harassment of anyone based on their religious beliefs, nationality or identity,” Benjamin Johnson, the university’s chief spokesman, told JNS.

Lerman, of Brandeis Center, told JNS that “while OSU says it doesn’t tolerate discrimination—and that is certainly its official policy—the fact is that they have tolerated discrimination against Jewish students, which has intensified since the horrific Oct. 7 Hamas attack against Israeli civilians.”

“Jewish students continue to be harassed by fellow students, who spit at them and demean them with racial slurs,” she said. “Ohio State is required by law to eliminate this hostile environment, not just parrot the school policies it is failing to enforce.”

Johnson shared a three-page letter with JNS that two senior Ohio State officials—a senior vice president and an associate vice president—wrote to StandWithUs. The administrators noted that the university responded to the incident which sent the student to the hospital. 

On Nov. 10, Peter Mohler, acting Ohio State president, wrote to the university community about a “horrible” act that took place near campus. (The school also issued a public safety notice.)

“Last night, two students were assaulted near 15th Avenue and High Street. One of the students was treated at the Wexner Medical Center and released,” Mohler wrote at the time. “Our thoughts are with these students and their families and we are offering all assistance we can for them during this time.”

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithU, told JNS that although Ohio State identified “a number of ways” its administration is addressing Jew-hatred on campus, “the reality is that between the time of OSU’s response and the filing of this complaint, based on information from students and campus stakeholders, that hostile climate has not improved.”

“As alleged in the complaint, the incidents recounted were reported to various OSU administrators tasked with addressing such issues, yet those reports, on numerous occasions, ultimately received no resolution—certainly none sufficient to remedy the harms incurred or the overall sense of Jewish students that their campus is safe and welcoming for them,” Rothstein said.

“To the extent there are factual discrepancies between the complaint’s allegations and OSU’s understanding of these matters, this is one of many reasons OCR intervention is necessary,” she added, of the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

“It is far too common for administrators to misunderstand the realities of contemporary antisemitism, especially when otherwise protected free speech crosses the line into discriminatory harassment, and thus fail to implement appropriate remedial measures,” she said.

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