The University of Southern California is facing a federal probe over its handling of a high-profile case involving a Jewish student who resigned from student government, citing anti-Semitic harassment.
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation on July 15 into a complaint filed by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law on behalf of Rose Ritch, who stepped down as Undergraduate Student Government vice president in August 2020.
Ms. Ritch faced a “concerted campaign of anti-Semitic harassment” over her support for Israel and her Jewish identity by students who were “determined to rid the USG of all Jewish Zionists,” according to the complaint filed in November 2020.
The Brandeis Center alleged that the university allowed “a hostile environment of anti-Semitism to proliferate on its campus” in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“The University’s failure to publicly condemn the anti-Semitic harassment or vindicate Rose by acknowledging that she had done nothing wrong and had been wrongly targeted on the basis of her identity, made it impossible for Rose to serve as student body president,” said the center in a Tuesday press release.
The harassment began during Ms. Ritch’s campaign when her posters were vandalized and she faced bullying on social media. After she was elected in February 2020, there were calls for her to be impeached.
During this time, students targeted her with messages such as “the Zionist need[s] to be impeached”; “tell your Zionist a** VP to resign too,” and “the president is trash & so is the VP who is a proud Zionist.”
One student said she “makes Palestinian students feel unsafe,” while another said she “openly expressed pro-Israeli sentiment and alienated Palestinian students. Get rid of her too,” according to the complaint.
In July 2020, the student government launched impeachment proceedings against Ms. Ritch and the student government president. The university suspended the impeachment but did not announce it. The president resigned July 7, and Ms. Ritch stepped down the next month.
“I am grateful that the University administration suspended my impeachment proceedings, but am disappointed that the university has not recognized the need to publicly protect Jewish students from the type of antisemitic harassment I endured,” Ms. Ritch said in her Aug. 5, 2020, resignation letter.
Ms. Ritch, who graduated in May 2021, told the Jewish Journal that she was “grateful that after two years, OCR is opening up this investigation.”
“Obviously this isn’t an issue that is a one-off thing or a rarity,” she said, adding, “I hope this is something that is able to show students that there are people looking out for you, that your rights should be protected and that this behavior is not acceptable.”
Federal probe opened into alleged anti-Semitism at University of Southern California — @TimesofIsrael‘s @luketress https://t.co/SbITjL5HnA
— The Brandeis Center (@brandeiscenter) July 26, 2022
In a statement to the Jewish Journal, USC said that it was “proud of its culture of inclusivity for all students, including members of our Jewish community,” and that it has made over the last two years “a number of commitments to combat antisemitism and anti-Jewish hatred.”
Those commitments include “developing strong partnerships with national organizations” such as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, the Stronger Than Hate initiative at the USC Shoah Foundation, and sending senior leaders to the President’s Summit on Campus Antisemitism at NYU.
“We are continuing to take these steps to further build on the welcoming environment we have created for our Jewish community,” said the USC statement. “We look forward to addressing any concerns or questions by the U.S. Department of Education regarding this matter.”