A day after USC’s undergraduate student government vice president resigned, saying she was targeted due to her identity as a Zionist, the president of the university condemned all forms of anti-Semitism, calling it “a profound betrayal of our principles,” and announced an initiative to help combat the problem.
In a letter to the campus community, USC President Carol Folt wrote that in Wednesday’s “heartbreaking” resignation letter, Rose Ritch “described the intense pressure and toxic conditions that led to her decision — specifically the anti-Semitic attacks on her character and the online harassment she endured because of her Jewish and Zionist identities.”
“She also challenged all of us to do better in aligning our actions with our stated desire to have a campus culture that is truly inclusive and respectful of racial and religious diversity, and of different cultural backgrounds and beliefs,” Folt wrote.
Ritch said she had been the target of anti-Semitic public attacks through social media. In an email sent to the campus community and obtained by USC’s student-run newsroom, Ritch said resigning was “the only sustainable choice I can make to protect my physical safety on campus and my mental health.”
Folt announced a university-wide initiative launched by the USC Shoah Foundation titled “Stronger than Hate.” The program is designed to serve as a call “to counter hate with tangible action.”
“It represents the work of many of our university leaders — including students, staff, and faculty — who have come together to support and amplify our collective struggle against hate,” Folt wrote. “Through meaningful exhibitions, programs and workshops, this initiative is designed to help foster a campus culture of connection and compassion that empowers us to listen, learn, heal and dream together.
“We hope that as we listen to each other, we can move beyond stereotyped beliefs that lead to implicit and explicit biases, and instead foster a respectful and supportive campus culture. We invite everyone to become Stronger than Hate and to sign up for this important opportunity here.”
Folt wrote that as USC president, “I believe it is critically important to state explicitly and unequivocally that anti-Semitism in all of its forms is a profound betrayal of our principles and has no place at the university. We must condemn any bias or prejudice that is based on a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation or other personal characteristic. What happened to Rose Ritch is unacceptable, and we must all take up her challenge to do better.”
Ritch said she had “been harassed and pressured for weeks by my fellow students because they opposed one of my identities. It is not because I am a woman, nor because I identify as queer, femme, or cisgender. All of these identities qualified me as electable when the study body voted last February.
“But because I openly identify as a Zionist, a supporter of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, I have been accused by a group of students of being unsuitable as a student leader,” Ritch wrote. “I have been told that my support for Israel has made me complicit to racism, and that, by association, I am racist. This is anti-Semitism and cannot be tolerated at a university that proclaims to `nurture an environment of mutual respect and tolerance.”’
Truman Fritz, former president of USC’s undergraduate student government, resigned July 7 following student outrage over posts on the Instagram account @black_at_usc claiming that he had engaged in acts of racial misconduct and other behavior.
Fritz wrote in a letter to the student body last month that his and Ritch’s “vision of strength in unity came about from our desire to build bridges, but as I look to the year ahead, I no longer believe this vision is possible with me at the helm. As the leader of USG, I recognize that accountability is exercised as decisive and tangible action meant to bring diverse voices into positions of power. As your President, I recognize that I have lost the trust of those I represent.”
Both of their resignations came after the circulation of petitions calling for their impeachment, spearheaded by USC senior Abeer Tijani. USC Annenberg Media reported last month that Tijani alleged in an email that Rose was a “self-proclaimed supporter of the anti-racist movement” and “failed to respond publicly to her constituents about Truman’s behavior.”
“Her silence aids and abets to the already taxing oppression and microaggressions that Black students face at USC face daily, and her vocal support was missing during such a sensitive and alienating time for us,” Tijani wrote.
In her letter Thursday, Folt said that despite “the significant progress we have made in cultivating and supporting a vibrant Jewish community on campus, we still wrestle with a history of anti-Semitism at USC. Over the last several years, incidents of anti-Semitism in American higher education have dramatically increased, and anti-Semitic attacks remain the most common religiously motivated hate crime in the United States. As a result, this has been an extremely painful period for our Jewish community.”
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