The federal government has opened civil rights investigations into seven schools and universities following allegations of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia since the outbreak began. the Israel-Hamas war.
The list includes three Ivy League institutions — Columbia, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania — as well as Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York. It also includes a K-12 system, the Maize Unified School District in Kansas.
The Education Department announced the investigations Thursday, calling them part of the Biden administration’s efforts to take “aggressive action” against discrimination. Schools that have violated the Civil Rights Act can face penalties up to and including a complete loss of federal money, although the vast majority of cases end in voluntary settlements.
Schools have a legal duty to act “when students are targeted because they are – or are perceived to be – Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Sikh or of any other common ethnicity or ancestry,” the secretary said to Education, Miguel Cardona, in a written statement.
Five of those investigations respond to allegations of anti-Semitic harassment, while two respond to allegations of anti-Muslim harassment, the department said. The agency did not disclose which schools were facing which charges. Details of the individual complaints have not been disclosed.
Most schools declined to comment on the surveys or did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Lafayette officials said it was unclear why their school was under investigation.
“The College maintains a firm position against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all hate speech. The College is and will continue to cooperate fully with the DOE in its investigation,” the College said in a written statement.
The schools are being investigated for possible discrimination based on common ancestry or ethnic characteristics, which violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Federal law requires schools to protect students from discrimination and to respond to harassment that creates a hostile environment. Anyone can file a complaint about such discrimination.
All investigations were opened on Wednesday or Thursday. An updated list of investigations will be released weekly, the department said.
Emotions over Israel-Hamas war run high many campuses in the United States. In Colombia, for example, tensions have escalated amid opposing protests by pro-Israel activists and Palestinian students and their allies.
At Cornell, a student was arrested last month after issuing threatening statements against the Jewish people. Some Jewish students at Cooper Union say the school failed to protect them during a pro-Palestinian protest in October that forced Jewish students to take shelter in a campus library.
Palestinian and Muslim students have also reported increased harassment on campuses across the country. At Columbia, students protested this week after the school suspended two pro-Palestinian groups that be subject to scrutiny on American campuses.
“We at the Department of Education, like the nation, see the fear students and school communities experience as hate proliferates in schools,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. ministry.
The surveys are the latest step the Biden administration is taking to spur colleges into action. Last week, the Ministry of Education sent a letter to universities reminding them of their legal obligations under the Civil Rights Act. Cardona recently met with leaders of Muslim, Arab and Jewish groups to discuss discrimination on campus.
Along with complaints filed with the Department of Education, some students have filed lawsuits alleging civil rights violations. Three Jewish New York University students sued the school this week, claiming it has failed to combat persistent anti-Semitism that has worsened since the October 7 incursion into Israel by Hamas militants.
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