A former Kutztown University student claims she was forced to withdraw from her studies because of an atmosphere of racism and bigotry on campus, as she endured anti-Semitic intimidation and the college was targeted by white supremacist propaganda.
Cassidy Pyser claims in a federal lawsuit filed last week that a roommate harassed her, starting with anti-Semitic memes featuring images of Adolf Hitler and a hooded klansman. The intimidation escalated, she said, with the roommate destroying a religious symbol Pyser had in her room and refusing to serve Pyser in a cafeteria.
When Pyser, who is Jewish, complained about the intimidation to her residence hall director and campus police, university officials took no action, her lawsuit alleges.
Ultimately, Pyser withdrew from the university at the end of her sophomore year after the spring 2017 semester.
University spokesman Matt Santos said school officials were unable to comment because the case is pending. Alan B. Epstein, who represents Pyser, also declined to comment. An attorney for Aramark Food and Support Service Group, which employed Pyser’s roommate in a university dining hall, did not return a call.
The suit claims Kutztown University failed to provide timely warnings to incoming Jewish students that its campus and surrounding areas had been the target of outside white supremacist groups promoting white American culture and neo-Nazi propaganda.
The suit alleges Kutztown was required to provide such warnings in its annual campus security reports, required under the federal Clery Act. The law, named for murdered Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery, requires schools receiving federal financial aid to report crimes that occur on their campuses.
Kutztown also failed to advise prospective students that it intended to abolish a rule against students displaying symbols of hate, the lawsuit says. In 2015, the university withdrew a proposed rule banning the display of Confederate flags or swastikas in residence halls.
The Anti Defamation League in Philadelphia named Kutztown, a state-owned university with an enrollment of about 9,000 students, as one of 18 colleges and universities in Pennsylvania targeted in 2017 by white supremacist groups with posters, stickers, banners and other materials promoting racist and anti-Semitic ideals.
The ADL said last summer that the number of incidents targeting campuses across the country increased for the third year running to 313 in the 2018-19 school year. The ADL called on university officials to increase education for faculty and students on diversity and inclusion and improve training for those who respond to bias and hate crimes.
“University presidents and campus leadership must remain vigilant in speaking out against the hateful messages of these groups,” National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a news release. “Given the alarming increase of these incidents, words alone are not enough — it must be followed by action.”
Pyser, who enrolled at Kutztown in 2015, claims in the lawsuit she experienced discrimination based on her Jewish faith beginning with statements and actions by her roommate’s boyfriend. The suit alleges the roommate sent text messages to Pyser that included images of Hitler reacting to the word “jew” contained in the name of a popular video game, a reference to Jews being burned during the Holocaust and a person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe standing in a watermelon field.
Pyser then discovered her roommate had smashed her mezuzah, a Jewish religious symbol attached to a doorpost that contains parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah.
Pyser moved from her room to a suite occupied by the dormitory resident assistant, who reported the incidents to Melissa Vanderpool, assistant director of residence life, and Desiree Reasoner, director of residence life. University officials took no action, the suit claims.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount for repayment of Pyser’s tuition, room and board, and compensation for lost earnings and noneconomic damages.
Morning Call reporter Peter Hall can be reached at 610-820-6581 or [email protected]