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Jewish groups seek federal probe of Wellesley College after email declares ‘no support’ for Zionism

A view of Wellesley College campus.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Two Jewish groups are calling for a civil rights investigation at Wellesley College after student staff at a residence hall declared there should be “no support for Zionism” on campus.

In a nine-page letter sent last week to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the Jewish on Campus organization wrote that resident assistants at Munger Hall sent an email on Oct. 19 to dormitory residents that included the phrase “there should be no space, no consideration, and no support for Zionism within the Wellesley College community.”


Administrators met with the resident assistants and told them the language they used violated the college’s standards, and an apology was emailed to students, according to the letter. But one of the resident assistants wrote on a private social media account that the apology was made only because they had “a gun to her head,” the groups alleged.

“Wellesley is permitting a hostile environment to develop and persist in Munger Hall and the wider Wellesley community by allowing students to marginalize and exclude Jewish students for whom Zionism is integral to their Jewish identity,” the organizations wrote. “Jewish students who celebrate the Jews’ ancestral connection to Israel are unable to participate with their full identity in Wellesley’s residential community and to receive the support of unbiased residential staff.”

The groups said that Paula Johnson, the college’s president, wrote to the college community on Oct. 20 that the residence hall staff realized the first email was a mistake. But she “did not address the anti-Semitic nature of the first email or condemn the statements calling to exclude Zionists from Wellesley,” the groups said.

A week later, a faculty-led panel discussion on the Israel-Hamas war “only fueled anti-Jewish hostility by advancing anti-Zionist and other anti-Semitic ideas, thereby further maligning and marginalizing Jewish students on the basis of their Jewish ancestral identity connected to Israel,” the organizations wrote.


In a statement, college officials said they were reviewing the complaint and referred to a series of open letters Johnson has written on the issue since Hamas invaded Israel in early October. Johnson also responded directly to the resident assistant issue on Oct. 20 and most recently wrote on Oct. 25 about Wellesley’s commitment to protecting students from harassment and discrimination amid increasing tensions.

“While we embrace freedom of expression for everyone in our community, which is critical to a liberal arts education and to a democracy, I want to be clear: Wellesley College condemns antisemitism, Islamophobia, and any other form of hate,” Johnson wrote. “No one at Wellesley should feel unsafe, and we will not tolerate harassment, discrimination, or bias of any kind on our campus. We also condemn the public targeting of our students online, and we are doing whatever we can to protect them from such targeting.”

There was no immediate response from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him @JREbosglobe.