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The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Officials to clear homeless encampment near campus in May
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • March 4, 2024

Investigation into alleged antisemitism finds ‘no evidence’ of discrimination in psychology course

In+interviews%2C+graduate+student+assistants+said+their+payments+were+delayed+for+as+long+as+six+weeks%2C+a+period+during+which+some+had+to+borrow+from+family+members+and+take+on+additional+debt+until+the+University+fulfilled+payments.
Auden Yurman | Senior Photo Editor
In interviews, graduate student assistants said their payments were delayed for as long as six weeks, a period during which some had to borrow from family members and take on additional debt until the University fulfilled payments.

A third-party investigation into allegations of antisemitism in a graduate psychology course found “no evidence” of discriminatory or retaliatory conduct, according to an email interim University President Mark Wrighton issued to the GW community Monday.

Investigators for Crowell & Moring, the law firm that GW hired to conduct the investigation, found many of the allegations of antisemitism were “inaccurate” and “decontextualized” in the complaint that pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs filed with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in January. StandWithUs alleged that Lara Sheehi, who taught the Professional Psychology Program’s Diversity I, created a “hostile environment” for some Jewish and Israeli students in the course and claimed faculty and administrators “retaliated” with “disciplinary proceedings” against students who complained about Sheehi.

Investigators found the remediation process that officials issued for students in the course was not disciplinary but instead was intended to “address a deficiency” in a subject matter, according to a summary of the Crowell & Moring investigation’s findings that officials released Monday. GW did not release the full report online, but Wrighton said the summary “faithfully represents” what officials learned from the investigation, which interviewed “almost all” of the students in the course last fall, faculty in the program and administrators.

Sheehi said she stands “strong” with the support of the third-party investigation’s conclusions, according to a Monday release from the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, an organization that agreed to defend Sheehi against the complaint in January. She said in the release that the investigation’s summary demonstrates the “dangerous ramifications” of the allegations of antisemitism that StandWithUs levied against her as an Arab woman, scholar and clinician.

“I am grateful to the investigators and the labor that was expended to meticulously document what I have known since day one: those of us who fight for Palestinian liberation do not do so on the backs of our Jewish siblings, nor do we discriminate, retaliate or isolate Jewish or Israeli students in our classrooms,” Sheehi said in the release.

Roz Rothstein, the CEO and co-founder of StandWithUs, said in a statement Monday that the organization wants officials to release the full report rather than a summary of its findings. She alleged the summary demonstrates a “blatant whitewashing” of the alleged discrimination Jewish students faced.

“While we had hoped that the GW administration would take this opportunity to begin remedying its pervasive antisemitism problem, its published ‘summary’ demonstrates that it intends only to persist in its course of disregarding the rights of its Jewish and Israeli students,” Rothstein said.

Rothstein said that she and other members of StandWithUs are “appreciative” of federal civil rights laws, like Title VI, and the Office for Civil Rights’ enforcement of them, which they said is designed to give students the “impartial and truly independent investigation.

The Office for Civil Rights did not immediately return a request for comment on its review of StandWithUs’ complaint.

Wrighton’s statement, which did not name Sheehi, said the investigators determined many of StandWithUs’ allegations were “taken out of context and misrepresented.”

Sheehi, an assistant professor of clinical psychology, responded to StandWithUs’ allegations in a February article written for the left-leaning media outlet CounterPunch, contesting that its claims were false and used “racist, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian tropes” against her. Sheehi said she received death threats after StandWithUs released its allegations.

Over the course of January and February, more than 2,000 students, faculty, alumni and advocates – including political activist Angela Davis – signed over half a dozen statements in support of Sheehi, denouncing StandWithUs’ allegations.

“What the facts, in glaring clarity do support, is that, like others before me, StandWithUs exploited students’ political beliefs and targeted me because I am an Arab woman who is involved in scholarship and activism for Palestine and Palestinians,” Sheehi said in the article.

Wrighton said the results of the investigation do not “diminish or disregard” the “very real and present danger” of antisemitism on campus.

A GW student called Jewish individuals “pieces of sh*t” in a video uploaded to Snapchat in 2019, and a Torah scroll at Tau Kappa Epsilon’s on-campus house was desecrated during a break-in in October 2021. The Anti-Defamation League reported 2,717 antisemitic incidents in the U.S. in 2021, a 34 percent rise compared to the prior year, according to PBS.

“We recognize with deep concern past incidents of antisemitism here at GW and on higher education campuses and elsewhere, in the D.C. region and across the nation, as well as the increased number of antisemitic incidents in U.S. society more widely in the past several years,” Wrighton said.

Wrighton said he consulted with Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights to create more orientation programs and academic programming that facilitate conversation on “difficult issues” among GW community members. He said they will also review GW’s “policies and programs” to ensure they address all forms of discrimination.

“I understand there will be many reactions to the findings of this investigation,” he said. “I hope I have been able to show the importance we placed on navigating these difficult matters with care, sensitivity and fairness to all.”

Crowell & Moring found the University made multiple efforts to address students’ concerns about Sheehi’s conduct before the remediation process, which they described as a “supportive and collaborative” process for students and faculty to discuss and solve a misunderstanding in a “subject matter area.” The summary stated that officials invited students to meet with the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences associate dean for graduate studies in October and invited third-party facilitators to host a “restorative circle” for students in November.

“Crowell found that remediation was supported overwhelmingly by the program faculty as a necessary step for students’ professional development and was not a retaliatory measure for complaints of antisemitism,” the summary states.

Crowell & Moring also found that StandWithUs’ claim that Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, chair of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, made antisemitic comments during a guest lecture at GW was “largely inconsistent” with the recording of the event and “significantly decontextualized.”

StandWithUs’ complaint also states that Jewish students raised concerns to Sheehi about three class readings that they believed portrayed Israel and Jewish people in a negative light “within the greater context of antisemitism in the class.” Sheehi said in her CounterPunch article that these allegations are “false” and that only two of the readings mention Palestine in passing.

The summary states that none of the students that investigators interviewed recall Sheehi denying the existence of antisemitism or Jewish and Israeli students’ “lived experiences.”

“Crowell’s assessment concluded that Dr. Sheehi repeatedly acknowledged the students’ feelings, gave the students space to express their concerns and denounced antisemitism as a real and present danger,” the summary states.

The summary states that tweets from Sheehi referenced in StandWithUs’ complaint, including one from 2020 calling the Israeli army “genocidal f*cks,” do not violate GW’s social media policy because they are private tweets on a personal account, but GW “strongly denounces” profane language directed at any group of people. Investigators learned that students were not aware of these tweets during the fall semester when they were in Sheehi’s class and found no evidence that Sheehi made similar comments to students, according to the summary.

Rothstein said Sheehi’s tweets were taken down only after StandWithUs filed its complaint.

“While the University disapproves of the tone of the tweets, GW policies recognize the right of faculty to articulate their points of view consistent with the University’s strong commitment to academic freedom,” the summary states.

The summary states the University “fully acknowledges” that people have “strongly held views” on the Israel-Palestine conflict and on whether discourse surrounding the conflict is explicitly political or antisemitic in nature.

“While we respect the right of individuals to disagree, we strongly denounce the hateful messages and threats directed to Dr. Sheehi and her family that have occurred since SWU publicized its letter to OCR,” the summary reads. “We are resolute to do everything we can to promote civil discussion and debate on complex and controversial issues, as is appropriate at an institution of higher education.”

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