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Much Sues School of the Art Institute of Chicago on Behalf of Israeli Student Facing Antisemitism


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Much Sues School of the Art Institute of Chicago on Behalf of Israeli Student Facing Antisemitism

Much has sued the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) on behalf of Shiran, a master’s degree student in the Art Therapy and Counseling program. The lawsuit charges the school with pervasive and severe antisemitic harassment and discrimination under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Principal Steve Blonder filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on December 22, 2023.

“Shiran wanted to attend SAIC to explore how she could use art therapy to make a positive difference in the world. She deserves the opportunity to learn without fearing for her safety,” Blonder said. “SAIC must be held accountable for enabling a culture of antisemitic vitriol and forced to fulfill its fundamental obligation to protect its students.”

This harassment reached a new level when a professor in the Art Therapy and Counseling program announced a revision to the final assignment for the “Materials and Media in Art Therapy” course. The new assignment required Shiran and her classmates to respond to a collection of images allegedly drawn by Palestinian children (though this fact is unverified and disputed) that depicted Israeli soldiers engaged in brutal violence. It also required the students to answer a second prompt about child sexual assault that involved artwork using Hebrew-language text bubbles (thereby suggesting the sex offenders were Israeli subjects). The new final assignment gratuitously incorporated inflammatory content uniquely targeted at Shiran in apparent retaliation for previous complaints she raised about persistent and severe antisemitism.

The school retracted this assignment after receiving notice that Shiran intended to file for a temporary restraining order in federal court to enjoin the school from assigning the offending material. However, the professor continued harassing Shiran and retaliating against her. The professor persisted in targeting Shiran with discussions regarding the handling of upsetting material, changes to the course’s grading and rubric that would uniquely harm Shiran’s grade, and the solicitation and acceptance of hostile and discriminatory feedback from classmates regarding Shiran’s presentations.

When Shiran first applied to the Art Therapy and Counseling program at SAIC, she was rejected. The school later reversed its decision and admitted her after an independent investigation of alleged antisemitic discrimination found that her admissions process “did not follow SAIC policy or expectations” and “fell far short of [SAIC’s] standards.” Since the Hamas terror attack on October 7, Shiran, who is Jewish and of Israeli origin, has faced constant harassment and discriminatory treatment, from both faculty and fellow students.

In mid-October, days after Hamas massacred more than 1,000 Israeli civilians and kidnapped hundreds more, Mika Tosca, an SAIC faculty member, posted to social media that “Israelis are pigs. Savages. Very very bad people. Irredeemable excrement. … May they all rot in hell.” Shiran sent inquiries to multiple members of the faculty and administration seeking assurances that she was safe on campus. She received no response to her initial email or the two follow-ups she sent, and has still received no response – nearly two months later.

As noted, the harassment against Shiran escalated dramatically with the issuance of the new final assignment on December 7. Just two days earlier, on December 5, Shiran initiated a formal complaint with the school’s Title IX office regarding the harassment and discrimination she had faced. Among other things, the complaint included a claim against a professor who had previously granted a Muslim student permission to discontinue collaboration with Shiran on an assigned joint presentation solely because Shiran “denies the genocide so clearly taking place.” On December 7, in apparent retaliation for the formal complaint, that same professor announced the new final assignment.

The new assignment prompt said: “Sometimes we can also work with clients’ experiences/backgrounds that are ‘too close to home’ and we need to deal with our own complicated feelings, internalized racism/ableism/homophobia/supremacy and countertransference, etc. Can you keep it professional and still empathize with clients even when the content of their art upsets or triggers you?” In the assignment prompt, the professor made politicized (and factually unverified) statements describing the images as representing “displacement and colonization from children’s view,” while simultaneously instructing that students must not insert their own “agenda,” “personal values,” or “belief system” in their response.

Shiran is the only student in the class from Israel or the Palestinian territories. In other words, she is the only student for whom the images could be described as “too close to home.” The other students did not receive a corresponding assignment asking them to respond to images that might “upset” or “trigger” them, such as drawings by Israeli children depicting Hamas’s genocidal violence against innocent Israelis. As noted above, the school withdrew the assignment only after receiving notice of Shiran’s intent to seek emergency injunctive relief.

The faculty’s actions and inaction, taken in context, evidence the school’s tolerance of, and complicity in, antisemitic bias and discrimination against Shiran.

“I am determined to shed light on this issue, not just for me but for everyone who faces discrimination,” said Shiran. “I study art therapy, which is supposed to be about care. Hate of any form has no place in the classroom. I believe publicizing my story is crucial to raising awareness about the recent upsurge of antisemitic discrimination in higher education institutions and more broadly.”

Read the full complaint.