weather icon Clear

NSHE regent’s comment about Jewish community sparks outrage

Updated June 18, 2024 - 7:24 pm

Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education sought to reassure the Jewish community Monday in response to a backlash over comments made by a regent that members of the Jewish community called antisemitic.

Donald Sylvantee McMichael Sr., who serves as vice chair of the Board of Regents’ Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access Committee, made his comments during a June 7 meeting during which the board approved 7-6 with McMichael among the dissenters to define antisemitism in the NSHE’s handbook

“We have a small group of people — because they were set upon in World War II — have the notion that they can set themselves up in a higher position than anyone else in the United States,” McMichael said in a video recording of the meeting posted on X.

“Some Jewish students are frightful to come to campus. Get in line,” he said in another clip. “There’s others who have been here a lot longer and who have been treated more poorly, and for you to come and say that, ‘Oh my gosh, just remember, it been World War II, we had the Holocaust and they were in concentration camps.’ We still have concentration camps here in the United States.”

Backlash to comments strong

Jolie Brislin, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Desert Region, said Monday that the Anti-Defamation League was “appalled” by McMichael’s comments.

“His comments were laced with antisemitic undertones, downplayed the current crisis on campus, and falsely suggested that countering hate is a zero sum game,” she said in an email statement. “His position as Vice-Chair of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access Committee for NSHE is particularly concerning, highlighting the urgent need for enhanced education and vocal opposition against antisemitism across the board.”

She called for McMichael’s removal from the committee, stating, “Nevada college students deserve nothing less.”

Stefanie Tuzman, president and CEO of Jewish Nevada, released a statement last week in response to the comments. The statement condemns McMichael’s comments, calling them “deeply troubling” and “completely unacceptable.”

The comments he made isolate Jewish students from the NSHE community, she said, also calling for McMichael’s removal from the committee.

Dani Libersohn, director of Jewish life and Chabad Rabbi at the University of Nevada, Reno, called the comments “incredibly disappointing” and said McMichael’s minimizing of Jewish hardships was “incredibly hurtful.”

He, alongside his wife Rochel, work every day to try to make Jewish students at UNR feel comfortable, accepted and recognized.

“For the brave Jewish students that are coming out and expressing their concerns to be diminished by a regent, it’s obviously incredibly hurtful,” he said.

NSHE responds

McMichael did not return a call from the Las Vegas Review-Journal seeking comment.

A statement from NSHE released Monday did not mention McMichael by name or mention if he would suffer any consequences for his comments.

Instead, the statement said: “We acknowledge that during the discussion surrounding the policy proposal, comments were made downplaying the concerns of our Jewish community members. We want to make it abundantly clear that the Board of Regents takes the concerns of Jewish students, staff, faculty, and community members very seriously. Discrimination and bias in any form are antithetical to the values of inclusion and respect that we uphold.”

NSHE said the policy amendment allows the NSHE and its institutions to consult the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, extending equality to individuals who experience discrimination based on shared ancestry or distinct religious identity.

“The amended policy equips NSHE institutions with tools to fight all forms of discrimination, including antisemitism, without taking away from the core values of freedom of speech or academic freedom” the statement read.

Contact Ella Thompson at ethompson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @elladeethompson on X.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.