Statement on the Interpretation of Caste within the Brandeis Non-Discrimination Policy

As an institution of higher education founded on the principles of equitable access and inclusion, Brandeis University celebrates the diversity of its faculty, staff, students and alumni. It is in this spirit that the institution seeks to effectively address the concept of caste and its corresponding identity-based lived experience within our policy on non-discrimination.

For the purposes of this statement, caste is defined as follows: Caste is a system of rigid social stratification characterized by hereditary status, endogamy, and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law, or religion.

Because caste is not an officially recognized “protected class” within U.S. federal law or state law within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this statement seeks to provide clarification and guidance to the Brandeis community about how it will address campus-based discrimination and harassment as it relates to caste.

Formerly, the Brandeis non-discrimination policy prohibited those forms of discrimination that are overtly described in federal and state law. Specifically, Brandeis policy prohibited "discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color, ancestry, religious creed, gender identity and expression, national or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, genetic information, disability, military or veteran status or any other category protected by law (also known as membership in a 'protected class')."

Following the guidance of the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division’s interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to include a prohibition against religious discrimination, Brandeis University shall similarly construe caste identity to be included within the University’s current bans on discrimination and harassment based on race, color, ancestry, religious creed, and national or ethnic origin. The University believes that caste identity is so inextricably intertwined with those legally recognized protected characteristics that discrimination based on one’s caste is effectively discrimination based on an amalgamation of legally protected characteristics. Therefore, the University prohibits discrimination and harassment based on caste, effective immediately. We believe that this interpretation is consistent with the University’s fundamental principles and mission of fostering and facilitating an equitable and inclusive environment for all to work and learn.

Thus, the Brandeis University Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) shall have primary jurisdiction to provide intake and investigation into any complaints of harassment or discrimination related to the issue of caste brought forward by a member of the Brandeis community.

Nov. 26, 2019