Shortly after their first year at Temple University began this past summer, Sasha Westrick said, her roommate began teasing her about being Jewish. Westrick said the roommate made comments about her dressing up for Shabbat and believing in God, and once asked her for money because she said she thought Jewish people had a lot of it.
After the High Holidays, things got worse. The two were in a study hall together, Westrick said, when she got a text from the roommate’s number with a picture of Westrick, seemingly taken minutes before and from a few feet away, the words “I hate Jews” emblazoned across the bottom.
Westrick, who is 18, said she looked up and asked “Did you send this?”
“Yeah,” she recounted the roommate replying. “It was almost like she wanted to see how I would react.”
Shocked and rattled, she brought the matter to one of her rowing coaches — both young women had been recruited to Temple’s team.
The coach asked if she had any evidence, Westrick said, and didn’t seem upset by what she had just been told.
In the months since, Westrick has moved out of the dorm room and filed a complaint with the Temple University police, which passed it on to university officials. The school conducted an investigation, produced a 71-page report and held a hearing last month; it is unclear what discipline, if any, the roommate faced.
Dissatisfied by the response and feeling isolated, Westrick stopped going to rowing practice and plans to transfer to another university in the fall because she does not feel Temple is a good place to be Jewish and “doesn’t share the values I have.” Her mother, Amy Westrick, said the family is considering filing a lawsuit.
“I work with refugees, homeless people. I was taught from a very young age that you need to be kind and accepting of other people,” Sasha Westrick said in an interview on Friday. “I don’t get that feeling from Temple.”
The coach could not be reached for comment. The Forward could not find an email address, phone number or social media accounts to contact the roommate, and therefore is not naming her, since she has not had an opportunity to respond.
Get the Forward delivered to your inbox. Sign up here to receive our essential morning briefing of American Jewish news and conversation, the afternoon’s top headlines and best reads, and a weekly letter from our editor-in-chief.
A spokesman for Temple, a public university of 35,000 in Philadelphia, released a statement on Friday in response to the Forward’s request for comment, saying that “the incident has been addressed and appropriate remedies have been applied.” It condemned antisemitism and other discrimination, said harassment and threats are not tolerated, and encouraged people to report any violations of those policies.
“We prioritize fostering a campus climate where all students can live and study without fear, hate and intimidation,” it said.
“The students have been separated, and they no longer share living space and are no longer together in a team setting” the statement added, citing privacy laws that barred the school from sharing more details. “Additionally, we have been actively engaged in supporting the impacted students since we became aware of the situation.”
Rabbi Baruch S. Kantor, who runs the Chabad center on campus where Westrick is a regular at services, said the situation was “very concerning to us” but also an aberration.
“Our experience is that the overwhelming majority of students at Temple are good people who understand that bigotry is unacceptable,” he said via email. “We have tried to support Sasha in any way possible, and we’re also working with the university to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”
Dorm life gone bad
Westrick said she and her roommate got along fine at the very beginning of the school year. They shared a two-bedroom suite with two other girls — also rowers.
Once she complained about the antisemitic remarks, Westrick said, her friends on the team shunned her, and made it clear that they were not on her side. The harassment continued, she said, with others joining in alongside the roommate.
At the end of September, Westrick’s mother, a chiropractor from Rhode Island, went to Temple for a visit, and found her daughter distraught. “She would be crying as I was leaving her,” because she didn’t feel safe in her own room, Amy Westrick said in an interview. “I contacted the coach and said please get her out of there.”
Mother and daughter said no one seemed able or willing to help Sasha get a new room. On Oct. 9, Amy Westrick said, she called Temple’s residential director and demanded that her daughter be moved out that day. She was — to a room in the same dorm. She was later assigned a permanent room — where she sleeps now — on the same floor as her former roommate.
“When I’m in the elevator, I still have to see her,” Westrick said.
When Westrick went to fetch some possessions from her former room, she said, the girls told her she should not be there because two of them had filed no-contact orders against her with the Temple police.
Outraged that the victim was being treated like the guilty party, Amy Westrick told her daughter to go to the campus police and to file a complaint. They saw the “I hate Jews” text, and, she said, found the complaint valid enough to pass it on to university officials.
The university conducted an investigation that, Amy Westrick said, resulted in a 71-page report that treated the situation mostly as a roommate dispute. “In no area did it list anything about the actual text,” she said.
They set a virtual hearing on the case for Dec. 20.
Alone at a hearing
Westrick said that a few days before the hearing, she was given a list of people who could attend: she and her former roommate, of course, the roommate’s friend, the roommate’s father, the roommate’s boyfriend and a rowing coach. Not Amy Westrick.
“She’s got people. I’ve got people,” Westrick recalled thinking. “Am I allowed my mom for support? Can I have anybody on my side?” she recalled asking. “They said ‘no,’” A lawyer her mother had hired, a family friend from Rhode Island, was allowed to listen to the proceedings but, according to Amy Westrick, not to speak.
Sasha Westrick said that the roommate said at the hearing that she had just been joking, and that she was sorry.
“I don’t really believe it,” Westrick said Friday. “I don’t want to hear from her again.”
She does want to know what discipline resulted. She has heard that the roommate was ordered to take a class on diversity and tolerance, but she doesn’t know the nature of the course or how long it lasts.
A friend on Instagram
On Jan. 3, an Instagram account called@JewishonCampus posted a story about the situation from Westrick’s point of view. The account has more than 35,000 followers and says in its bio, “Amplifying Jewish voices. Striving for university action. Join us in fighting antisemitism.”
Westrick, who is now seeing a therapist for depression and suffers from insomnia, said she does not know who posted the story, but was buoyed as it got more than 4,000 likes, making her feel she had allies. Then, nasty comments began to flow, and the post was removed.
Temple U. student plans transfer over antisemitic harassment
Still, the outpouring of support from the post inspired Westrick to tell her story to others.
So she went on a local television news program Thursday and has begun talking to reporters. The feedback has been gratifying, she said. People tell her how sorry they are for her experience, and some have shared their own.
When she filed the complaint Westrick said, “holding people accountable is what I went in thinking I wanted.” Now, though, “knowing that this could help other people feel less alone is probably the best outcome I could have hoped for.”
Temple U. student leaving over antisemitism