May 14, 2024
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Rutgers University Student Files Suit Against Rutgers Charging ‘Hostile Environment’

A threatening poster was left on the dorm door and throughout the residence hall of Rivka Schafer, an Orthodox student at Rutgers University.

A Jewish Rutgers University rising sophomore who has been subject to “a hostile school environment and discrimination” on campus has filed suit against the university.

Rivka Schafer, an Orthodox student from Bergen County, has been targeted with antisemitic posters left on the student’s dorm door and throughout Demarest Hall on the university’s New Brunswick campus. Schafer has also been taunted by pro-Palestinian students.

The suit was filed May 9 on behalf of the ecology major in the university’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences by the Roseland law firm of Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman.

“Rutgers has been a hotspot for antisemitism for a while,” said Schafer’s attorney Cory Rothbert.“The lawsuit cites a number of incidents.”

He said that Jewish students have been targeted on college campuses across the country. However, he noted that at Rutgers it is “open season” on Jewish students.

Among the incidents cited in the lawsuit is a dorm meeting the rising sophomore attended the week after the October 7 terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas where a student expressed appreciation for the high Israeli death toll and other students snapped their fingers, leaving Schafer shaken.

In another incident, Schafer was present at Rutgers President Dr. Jonathan Holloway’s town hall meeting in early April, when it was disrupted by pro-Palestinian protestors chanting for the genocide of Jews. Holloway had to be escorted from the gathering by Rutgers Police.

Earlier this month at the pro-Palestinian encampment set up on the New Brunswick campus, a protestor shouted at Schafer and other Jewish students nearby that “Hitler would have loved you” and defended Hamas. Additionally, the suit said the university “prevented” an end-of-the-year celebratory barbecue for Zionist students, sponsored by Rutgers Chabad, Hillel and Jewish Xperience on campus, while allowing the encampment and negotiating with protesters who violated the law and school policy. The barbecue was moved to Buccleuch Park in New Brunswick.

The suit alleges that “hostility at Rutgers towards Jewish students spiraled out of control after Hamas’ terrorist attack on October 7, 2023 in Israel.”

The suit said the poster left on Schafer’s door and other places in the dorm had a photo of the student taken at a pro-Israel demonstration on another poster that read “Free Gaza” and “Free Palestine,” and urged a “yes” vote on a student government referendum and proposal by the Endowment Justice Collective. This referendum urged Rutgers to divest from Israel and disengage from the memorandum of understanding with Tel Aviv University which established the Israeli educational institution as part of the Innovation and Technology Hub under construction in New Brunswick. 

Two undergraduate students were arrested by Rutgers Police and charged with harassment following the incident, according to the suit.

The suit additionally alleges the collective is “effectively the alter ego” of Students for Justice in Palestine, which was suspended earlier in the year for violations of the university’s code of conduct but was reinstated and is on a year probation.

Holloway has rejected both divestment and ending the memorandum. However, the university negotiated with the protestors to end the encampment, agreeing to eight of their demands, a move that has angered the Jewish community.

The negotiated agreement, which includes amnesty for the protestors, prompted a call by the state’s five largest Jewish federations that it be rescinded or Holloway and Chancellor Dr. Francine Conway immediately resign. They also vowed to trigger state and federal investigations. Holloway already testified before the state last Thursday and is slated to appear before Congress later this month.

The university doesn’t comment on legal actions, but university spokespersons have previously told The Jewish Link that Rutgers investigates all incidents of bias and discrimination brought to its attention. To Schafer and other Jewish students, the threatening posters in the dorm implied that they shouldn’t support Israel since those targeting them knew where they slept. Rothbert added the suit was filed to demand change and prompt the university to adhere to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), anti-bullying and other laws. The suit requests compensatory, punitive and exemplary damages.

“For years, Rutgers’ Jewish students have reported incidents and concerns to Rutgers; yet Rutgers continues to tolerate faculty members, guest speakers, groups, students and student organizations that legitimize or endorse antisemitic expression and actions, whether overt or implicit,” reads the suit. “Toleration of bullying, intimidation, harassment, discrimination and retaliation against Jewish students denies them their right to an adequate educational environment.”

The suit charges Schafer was denied the privileges and advantages of a public education because the student is Jewish, one of the protected classes under the NJLAD, and the university knew or should have known about the discrimination and bullying. It accuses the university of failing to take prompt, effective and remedial measures “to address the harassment, intimidation and bullying to which Schafer was unmercifully subjected to by students, faculty, staff and/or outside agitators whom Defendants allowed on campus.”

It also alleged Rutgers failed to train employees in how to appropriately investigate the conduct of students, student organizations, faculty and staff, and/or failed to properly train administrators in instituting effective measures to counter antisemitic materials.

 

Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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