The independent news organization of Duke University

University settles discrimination complaint on Gaza conference

Duke has resolved a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in the aftermath of last year’s conference on Gaza.

The conference, which the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies hosted at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill from March 22 to 24, 2019, was the subject of scrutiny primarily due to a performance by Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar, which was perceived to have anti Semitic lyrics.

After the incident, Provost Sally Kornbluth and President Vincent Price wrote in a statement that whether anti Semitism occurs on campus, in the community, in conference rooms or courtrooms, “we must all speak out forcefully against actions and statements that target and threaten members of our Jewish community.”

The incident was cited in a complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education against Duke April 17, 2019 by the Zionist Organization of America. The ZOA also filed a similar complaint against UNC, which resolved its case with OCR in November 2019.

“Duke is firmly and deeply committed to calling out and combatting anti-Semitism at every opportunity,” wrote Michael Schoenfeld, vice president of government relations, in an email to The Chronicle.

The resolution agreement required Duke to issue a statement to “all University students, faculty, and staff” against discrimination, with an emphasis on anti Semitism, by Jan. 30, 2020. Kimberly Hewitt, vice president for institutional equity and chief diversity officer, emailed this statement to the community Jan. 29.

The statement contained the required reference to anti Semitic harassment, as well as a focus on sexual misconduct. Hewitt encouraged community members to report incidents of either transgression to the Office of Institutional Equity and the Office of Student Conduct, respectively.

“Simply put, the University does not tolerate anti-Semitism, and I encourage any member of the community to report when such conduct occurs,” Hewitt wrote.

Jan. 30 was also the deadline for Duke to submit an updated version of the Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct to the OCR. The updated policy “must provide a description of the forms of anti-Semitism that can manifest in the university environment,” according to the agreement

The OCR must approve the policy and within 15 days of approval, and the University must adopt, implement and publish the policy.

Schoenfeld did not address when the community could expect to see this new policy. The policy linked in Hewitt’s statement was adopted in May 2019.

The University is also required to host a meeting during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years allowing community members to discuss harassment. The specific dates of the meetings remain uncertain.

According to a letter sent to Morton Klein and Susan Tuchman, co-presidents of the ZOA, by the OCR Dec. 10, 2019, Duke “did not dispute that the performer made offensive, anti-Semitic comments during his performance at the conference.” 

The University took steps to encourage “a climate supportive of Jewish students,” including a training session to combat anti Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Israel bias at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life March 31, 2019.

The resolution also required that future diversity and inclusion training sessions offered to the Duke community include a section regarding how to avoid and respond to anti Semitism on campus. 

Included below are the resolution agreement and the OCR’s letter to the ZOA.


Comments