Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs: Jewish Life at USC and Responding to Recent Antisemitic Social Media Posts

What are the underlying facts?

  • Over the last two years, USC has been the subject of media attention as a result of student social media activity that either targeted or was highly offensive to many Jews, Zionists, and others.
  • Most recently, an engineering student anonymously posted a series of hateful antisemitic and anti-Zionist tweets in May 2021.
  • The university was not aware of these posts at the time they were made – they were anonymous and we do not monitor the social media activity of our 70,000+ students, faculty, and staff.
  • However, we acted the moment we were notified of these tweets – doing everything we could within the law, including removing the student from a paid mentor position.
  • The student also removed the tweets from her Twitter page approximately one month after they were posted.
  • Following the removal of the tweets, the student was elected to a diversity and inclusion position within a student-run organization, which was unaware of the tweets in question.
    • The student organization is one of hundreds at USC that are self-governed, and as such, this level of decision-making does not rise to the President, Provost, Vice President for Student Affairs, or the Dean.
  • In November 2021, an outside entity re-circulated screenshots of the student’s deleted tweets.
    • These were subsequently picked up by online news outlets and circulated widely from November through December of this year. 
    • They also included and spread misinformation about the student’s role.
    • They also circulated additional tweets, purportedly by the student, several of which were apparently fraudulently attributed to her.
  • When the screenshots of the tweets were recirculated, the student’s school quickly issued a public statement denouncing these hateful statements.
  • The university also replied to tweets and sent messages quite broadly trying to correct the misinformation. After certain faculty wrote to the administration to express concerns, the administration responded in a comprehensive manner within two days.
  • USC President Carol Folt and Board Chair Rick Caruso also clearly and publicly denounced antisemitism in multiple statements.
  • The USC President also denounced antisemitism to the entire community, following the resignation of Rose Ritch from student government, and responded to all letters sent to her or the Provost from the faculty.
  • We’ve created a webpage with all this available.

What has the university done to respond to this situation?

  • USC offices of EEO-TIX, threat assessment, and others worked to evaluate the situation from a variety of perspectives. This process included referring this matter to the FBI, which did not view the student’s tweets as posing a credible threat.
  • Due to student privacy laws, these processes do not play out publicly, but the university is highly responsive behind the scenes, working to ensure the safety of its campus community.
  • USC President Carol Folt and Board Chair Rick Caruso clearly and publicly denounced antisemitism in multiple statements.
  • The USC President also denounced antisemitism to the entire community, following the resignation of Rose Ritch from student government, and responded to all letters sent to her or the Provost from the faculty.
  • We’ve created a webpage with all this available.

Why hasn’t the university removed the student from her position and/or publicly denounced or punished this student?

  • As difficult as it seems for people to understand, the tweets to date, while hateful and offensive, are protected speech (by both Federal and State Law).
  • This matter was referred to the FBI, which did not view the student’s tweets as posing a credible threat. Our internal threat office is closely monitoring this situation and has reached the same conclusion.
  • In addition, all students have very clear legal privacy privileges that prohibit public release of any of the private information people have demanded to see.
  • This means that USC is legally required to protect student privacy and cannot comment publicly on specific university processes or actions with respect to a particular student, much less denounce the student publicly.
  • Further, to remove anyone from a student-elected position based on protected speech would violate the California Leonard Law.
  • Counter to what has been said publicly on social media, to our knowledge no other university or president has publicly denounced a student by name.

What is the California Leonard Law?

  • The Leonard Law, which is unique to California, applies the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to protect students at California private universities from discipline or sanction for protected speech.
  • California is the only state to grant First Amendment protections to students at private postsecondary institutions.

What actions has the university taken to combat antisemitism as a result of this situation?

  • USC has received and responded to hundreds of emails from the Jewish community regarding this issue. Though a few of these emails have come from faculty, the overwhelming number have come from outside USC.
  • President Folt and her team have held conversations with Jewish leaders both on and off campus to learn about the history of antisemitism and determine steps to move forward. This outreach will continue.
  • The university has launched a number of specific new initiatives:
    • A new Advisory Committee on Jewish Life at USC made up of students, faculty, staff, and community members. This Advisory Committee, which will be holding its first meeting later this month, will review a number of proposed actions to tangibly support Jewish and Zionist students, faculty, and staff. These include launching a campus climate survey to gather additional data on religious identification and discrimination within our campus community. Additionally, this committee, along with the Academic Senate, will help us identify a university-wide position that demonstrates our commitment to fighting antisemitism in all its forms. This work will include a review of the numerous statements, definitions, petitions, and declarations the university has been asked to sign and develop a process for evaluating them.
    • Ensuring Jewish representation and inclusion in our university-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts, and supplementing our bias and harassment training protocol to include antisemitism for all students, faculty, and staff.
    • Establishing a clearly articulated, student-focused campus pledge to act in accordance with our community principles and unifying values. This will help encourage civil discourse among our students on campus and on social media.
  • USC is participating in the Academic Engagement Network’s Signature Seminar Series, which brings together university and college administrators, including student affairs staff, diversity officials, and other campus professionals for online and in-person professional development to increase knowledge and awareness of Jewish identity, diversity, antisemitism, and inclusion on campus. Recently, the AEN acknowledged USC for ‘issuing a strong condemnation of antisemitism, including hateful anti-Zionist rhetoric, and for committing to develop and implement a comprehensive action plan for improving the campus climate for USC’s Jewish community’.

What else is USC and the President doing to support its Jewish community?

  • USC President Carol Folt and Board Chair Rick Caruso have clearly and publicly denounced antisemitism in multiple statements.
  • The USC President also denounced antisemitism to the entire community, following the resignation of Rose Ritch from student government, and responded to all letters sent to her or the Provost from the faculty.
  • We’ve created a webpage with all this available.
  • President Folt regularly attends Jewish events on campus, including Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations. Recently, she attended a Shabbat dinner with hundreds of students at Chabad, and the university’s Chanukah celebration.
  • USC has an extremely active Jewish community with one of the largest Jewish student populations on a college campus.
  • Multiple offices on campus run engaging programs for Jewish students, faculty, and staff:
    • USC Hillel engages over 1,500 unique USC students each year, fostering holistic Jewish identity formation across a range of informal programs.
    • The Chabad Jewish Center at USC offers students and families the opportunity to stay connected to Jewish life throughout the year, and provides Jewish students a supportive and nurturing “home away from home.”
    • The Stronger Than Hate initiative launched by the USC Shoah Foundation empowers teens and young adults to recognize and counter hate in their own communities.
    • The USC Casden Institute’s entire mission is built around understanding more about “what it means to be Jewish in America and American in a pluralistic society.”
    • Hebrew Union College is adjacent to our main campus and offers programs in Jewish studies.
  • The university also works closely with outside organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jewish Federation, and the American Jewish Committee on a number of initiatives through the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

How is USC working with other universities and national partners to combat antisemitism on campus?

  • USC recognizes that antisemitism is a globally pervasive problem – it is one of the oldest forms of hate.
  • A recent survey by ADL-Hillel shows that nearly one-third of Jewish students personally experienced antisemitism directed at them by a member of the campus community in the past year, and even more witnessed antisemitic activity on campus.
  • Later this year, President Folt will represent USC at a national presidents’ summit on antisemitism in higher education, hosted by Hillel International, the American Jewish Committee, and the American Council on Education. University leaders will come together to collaborate on strategies to address this and other serious concerns about the safety and well-being of our Jewish students.
  • As Vice President of the Association of American Universities (AAU), President Folt also plans to discuss this issue more broadly with the Presidents of the nation’s leading universities.