A professor at a tony Chicago art school deliberately altered a final assignment so that it “uniquely targeted” an Israeli Jewish student who was pursuing a formal complaint about months of alleged harassment, a new lawsuit stated.
Shiran, a first-year student in the art therapy and counseling master’s program at the School of Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) was subject to an “endless tide of hatred, discrimination, and exclusion” on campus, the Dec. 22 filing viewed by The Post read.
After several weeks of increased hostility, the mother of two informed SAIC’s outside counsel in early December that she wanted to pursue a formal investigation into her multiple complaints against her peers and faculty, the suit explained.
Two days after Shiran informed the attorneys of her decision, however, professor Sandie Yi — one of the faculty members Shiran complained about to the school and who is also named as a defendant in the suit — altered her course’s final assignment in ways that “uniquely targeted Shiran,” the suit claimed.
While the original assignment asked the students to write about their own fieldwork interests and to work through a hypothetical art therapy scenario, Part One of the new version asked the class to reflect on the “‘difficult conversations’” they had over the semester, according to the materials viewed by The Post.
“‘Difficult conversations’” was a phrase Yi frequently used “as a euphemism to refer to discussions about Israel,” the lawsuit alleged.
Part Two of the assignment required the students to review two image banks of drawings to assess their readiness to address certain topics in art therapy.
The image bank featured four children’s drawings of abuse — including one that showed what appeared to be an Israeli father and son speaking in Hebrew speech bubbles, the materials seen by The Post showed.
“You are a bad boy!” the father’s speech bubble reads, while the son replies, “Stop, dad, this is insulting,” Shiran’s lawsuit claims.
One of the other drawings also featured writing in an unidentified language.
“Of all the languages in the world, why are you picking [Hebrew]? Two days after Shiran files the formal complaint?” Shiran’s attorney, Steven Blonder, lamented to The Post Wednesday.
“There is no educationally defensible basis for that as part of the school curriculum and the school exam,” he said, while admitting that he did not know what the second featured language was.
Shiran was even more troubled by the second image bank, which asked the students to engage with drawings made by Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip during the 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza war, the assignment viewed by The Post showed.
The five drawings — which show Gazan children and their families benign targeted by Israeli soldiers, tanks and helicopters — were set to be included in a canceled 2011 exhibit at the Oakland Museum of Children’s Art, according to the Huffington Post.
Yi’s decision to alter the final to include an “overwhelming amount of images about Israelis” was a “transparently deliberate effort to further harass and isolate Shiran” in the wake of her formal complaint about discrimination at SAIC, the lawsuit claimed.
“[The assignment is] the most outrageous act of discrimination I think I’ve seen in a long time,” Blonder told The Post.
The second part of the assignment was eventually removed after Shiran reported it to the school’s outside attorneys — but Yi still emailed the class asking them to report their disappointment about the canceled section to the administration, the suit continued.
In the lawsuit, Shiran accused SAIC of violating the Civil Rights Act, Illinois’ Human Rights Act and even failing to fulfill its own promises of an open, conducive learning environment by failing multiple times to address her concerns about anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli feelings on campus, the filing stated.
“The school has policies on its books, it needs to enforce them in an even-handed manner,” Blonder said.
“It’s one thing to have a policy on the books, it’s one thing to espouse platitudes, and it’s another thing to live up to those ideals,” he added.
“We are aware of the complaint. We respect student and employee privacy interests and do not comment on pending litigation,” the SAIC told The Post via email.
“The School strongly condemns antisemitism and any discrimination based on religion, nationality, or any other aspect of a person’s identity. We have policies in place that prohibit discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, and the School is unequivocally committed to providing a safe and welcoming learning environment for all of our students, faculty, and staff,” it insisted.
In addition to the distressing final assignment, Shiran’s lawsuit included months of supposed antisemitism at the hands of her peers and faculty that increased following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack on southern Israel.
While Shiran tried to cope with the aftermath of the attack — including concerns for her parents, who live in northern Israel and are under threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon — she also faced “pervasive anti-Israeli and antisemitic rhetoric” from her fellow students and faculty, according to the filing.
The troubling material included media that referred to Israel’s retaliatory ground assault on Gaza as a “genocide” — a vocabulary choice Shiran personally objected to— as well as a social media post from professor Mika Tosca that called Israelis “pigs” and “very bad people.”
A few weeks later, the lawsuit claimed, Yi and professor Deborah Ann DelSignore allegedly “blatantly [misled]” Shiran into participating in a class discussion that devolved into a “diatribe” of criticism against Israel, according to the filing.
In another incident, another student in Yi’s class refused to work with Shiran on a joint presentation because “she was ‘simply unable to work closely with any individual who denies the genocide so clearly taking place before us [in Gaza].’”
Yi — who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit — also “continued to facilitate additional, one-sided student-led conversations expressing vitriol towards Israelis,” the suit alleged.
During this time, Shiran sent multiple communications to members of the faculty and administration — including one in which she asked “Violent words often lead to actual violence. How can I feel safe at SAIC?” — the lawsuit claimed.
All of these missives, however, went unanswered until Nov. 17, when the school’s Title IX office informed Shiran that outside attorneys were looking into her complaints.
In her lawsuit filed last month, Shiran is now seeking injunctive relief preventing SAIC from discriminating against Jewish and/or Israeli students, as well as money damages and attorneys’ fees, the filing stated.
Complaints like Shiran’s are part of a “larger trend,” Blonder told The Post.
“[Oct. 7] brought a lot of antisemitism to the fore, things that may have been behind closed doors before …it’s not OK anymore. And it’s now front and center and it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with,” he said of the ongoing conversation about antisemitism on college campuses.
The way SAIC handled Shiran’s concerns for her safety, he added, was a “stain” on the prestigious institution’s reputation.
The lawsuit could also have implications for Shiran’s personal life: Her father-in-law is on the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago, and she and her husband are named alongside her in-laws on the museum’s website for contributing to the purchase of a 17th-century painting in 2018.
Blonder declined to comment on the impact of Shiran’s experience at SAIC on her in-laws’ ties to the institute but did confirm that his client plans to continue pursuing her master’s degree at the school.
“[Shiran] signed up to get a world-class education in art therapy. She’s paid her tuition and she intends to follow through on that,” he insisted.
“She wants to make a difference, she wants to help people. But she wants to be able to enjoy the program like other students do,” he added.