A group of students drafted an open letter and petition urging Hillel International president Eric Fingerhut to rescind his endorsement of Kenneth Marcus, a human rights lawyer at the Louis D. Brandeis Center and President Donald Trump’s nominee for assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education.
Marcus—who previously served as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and deputy assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education under former President George W. Bush’s administration—is facing nationwide backlash in light of his nomination, mostly due to concerns with his policies on campus sexual violence.
Members of the campus Jewish community—J Street U executive board member and senior Brent Efron, junior Nate Turk, freshman Julia Greensfelder and sophomore Ben Ushman—collaborated this past week to draft the petition, which they released Wednesday.
“We are outraged that Hillel International has prioritized pro-Israel politics over protecting survivors of sexual violence when choosing to formally endorse Kenneth Marcus,” the letter reads.
The three Israel-focused groups on campus—J Street U, Washington University Students for Israel and Washington University Israel Public Affairs Committee—all voted to endorse the letter. This is the first time all three groups have come together to endorse a joint statement on an issue.
“We’re just saying that we don’t think it’s OK to put our Israel politics above protecting survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence,” Efron said.
The concerns outlined in the students’ open letter are consistent with issues that have been raised by other Hillel groups across the nation, as well as by civil rights interest groups.
Marcus endorsed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ policy for rollbacks on the Obama administration’s Title IX guidance, which ensured certain accommodations for survivors at universities, while also dictating higher standards for investigations into campus sexual assault cases. If his nomination is confirmed by the Senate, Marcus can also be expected to focus strongly on the enforcement of Civil Rights Act Title VI as it relates to cases of anti-Semitism in institutions of higher education.
Additionally, Executive Director of Hillel at Washington University Jackie Levey has formed an ad hoc committee composed of Hillel board members, Hillel staff and students to draft a letter rejecting Hillel International’s endorsement of Kenneth Marcus.
“This situation coincides with Washington University’s efforts to improve its Title IX processes and facilitate greater understanding and communication regarding the respective roles of the University’s Relationship Sexual Violence Prevention Center and Title IX Office,” Levey wrote in an email to Student Life. “It demonstrates the deep need for further conversation and action on issues regarding sexual assault, violence and harassment on campus and the role that [Washington University] Hillel can and must play in not only supporting survivors, but also promoting change in this area.”
Additional reporting by Danielle Drake-Flam.