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  • Violet Ramanathan

The ADL Files Federal Complaint Against Pomona

The Current Pro-Palestine Encampment On Marston Quad

On Thursday, May 9, a complaint filed to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights was announced, blaming Pomona College for “permitting severe discrimination and harassment of Jewish students in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” The complaint, filed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law, accuses Pomona of enabling the growth of a violently antisemitic culture that is unsafe for Jewish students.

The ADL is a nonpartisan advocacy group and“anti-hate organization” whose mission is to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” The Brandeis Center is “an independent, unaffiliated, nonprofit corporation established to advance the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and promote justice for all.” It specifically engages in “legal advocacy to combat the resurgence of anti-Semitism on college and university campuses.” In recent months, The Brandeis Center has filed Title VI complaints against University of Massachusetts Amherst, American University, University of Pennsylvania, and Wellesley College, among others, for neglecting to confront anti-Semitism on their respective campuses.

In a press release the ADL and the Brandeis Center state that “multiple incidents of physical violence and intimidation [have] occurred during the numerous explicitly pro-Hamas protests that took place at Pomona.” They describe verbal and physical harassment faced by Jewish students and faculty, the destruction of pre-approved flyers, hate speech – including anti-Jewish slurs and calls for Jewish students to “‘go back to the gas chambers’” – and harassment against tours and prospective students, which they claim sends the message that “Jewish families and Jewish students are not welcome at Pomona.”

The press release commends President Gabi Starr for her efforts to address antisemitism, including her response to the protest on April 5, but criticizes her for not taking action sooner. The ADL and the Brandeis Center describe how “President Starr had to call the police to protect herself and the Pomona community at large, resulting in nineteen arrests for criminal trespass and obstruction of justice.” They place the blame primarily on students and faculty, who, since October 7, have been “loudly supporting the murderous Hamas attacks, blaming the Israeli victims, and creating a shrine honoring the Hamas terrorists.”  They further claim that “this conduct has ensued despite President Starr’s warnings to the Pomona community, her attempts to impose order on campus, and her efforts to offer support to the victimized Jewish and Israeli students.” 

A Pomona student is quoted in the release blaming the Pomona administration for “call[ing] the police for their own safety” but neglecting the concerns of Jewish students. The student claims that President Starr has made statements condemning antisemitism, but has been slow to act, even when the safety of Pomona students is at hand. “‘From hate speech to retaliation in class and outside it to the mob that is occupying our campus and has taken over much of campus life, Jewish students are scared,’” she said.

The complaint claims Pomona violated Title VI, which states that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Although Pomona is a private institution, students receive federal loans, meaning that the college is still subject to Title VI. According to the Brandeis Center press release, “under the law, harassing, marginalizing, demonizing, and excluding Jewish students based on the Zionist component of their Jewish identity is unlawful.”

Pomona has a grade of “D” on their ADL Campus Antisemitism Report Card, which describes a hostile campus climate for Jewish students even before October 7th, citing multiple incidents of antisemitic rhetoric and suppression of Jewish and Israeli voices. Tensions at Pomona have only increased since the October 7th Hamas assault on Israel, which marked “the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.” The college is flagged for “Recent Anti-Zionist Student Government Activity,”  is labeled as “High” for both severe and nonsevere “antisemitic and anti-Zionist incidents,” and is flagged for having “hostile anti-Zionist student groups.”

The ADL and Brandeis Center press release states that during “the numerous explicitly pro-Hamas protests,” most Jewish students have “sheltered in their dorms or left campus entirely for their safety, missing classes to avoid the physically hostile demonstrators.” After describing a violent physical altercation where a protestor attacked a Jewish student, the report states that school security “refused to watch security footage of the protest incident.”

According to the 35-page complaint, which was filed on April 17th, “Jewish and pro-Israel students on Pomona’s campus are frightened and alone. One Pomona student—a 6’ 2” robust male student leader on campus—is transferring because the hostile environment for Jewish students has become so overwhelming.” Another student quoted in the complaint expressed their fear amidst the campus climate, stating: “if there [wa]s a way to complete school and never go to campus, I would never go back to Pomona.’” The complaint continues to describe the pressure that many students have felt to transfer.

The complaint concludes with a list of 17 proposed actions to be taken by Pomona, including a statement affirming Jewish students’ right to expression, apologizing for insufficient actions to prevent the spread of hatred across the campus, and condemning hate speech and glorification of terrorist organizations. Additionally, it states that the college should “continue to issue public commitments against academic boycott and divestment from Israel,” and demands antisemitism training for members of the Associated Students of Pomona College. The complaint concludes: “We urge [the Office for Civil Rights] to initiate an investigation of Pomona for failure to comply with Title VI, and, if it should find appropriate, to impose upon Pomona the remedies we set forth above.”

A representative from Haverim Claremont, a 5C Jewish Advocacy Organization, stated the following: “The disturbing and upsetting circumstances detailed in this complaint only confirm what students at Pomona have known for months: antisemitism has become politically fashionable in Claremont. All year, anti-Israel activists have used campus as a staging ground for harassment of and attacks on students, visitors, faculty, and staff. It’s time we put a stop to this bigotry. Haverim sincerely hopes that this complaint – and the legal process it initiates – is a first step in making our school a welcoming place for all.”

Disclosure: A non-writing contributor to this article is a member of Haverim


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