Colleges and universities are legally required to protect students from antisemitism and Islamophobia, the Education Department reminded institutions Tuesday.
“Hate-based discrimination, including based on antisemitism and Islamophobia among other bases, have no place in our nation’s schools,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon wrote in a Dear Colleague letter.
The letter is the second reminder in the last six months that a university will be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if it fails to address prohibited discrimination against students. Campuses are seeing a rise in antisemitic incidents and protests, as well as increased Islamophobia, since the start of the Israel-Hamas war last month. The Biden administration has been under pressure from Congress and others to do more to address campus antisemitism and protect Jewish students.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and other Biden administration officials met last week with Jewish students, as well as representatives of U.S. Jewish organizations. The administration also said last week that it would start tracking antisemitic threats and work with colleges to respond.
“The rise of reports of hate incidents on our college campuses in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict is deeply traumatic for students and should be alarming to all Americans,” Cardona said in a statement. “Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all other forms of hatred go against everything we stand for as a nation … College and university leaders must be unequivocal about condemning hatred and violence and work harder than ever to ensure all students have the freedom to learn in safe and inclusive campus communities.”
Cardona told CNN that the Office for Civil Rights has received “eight or nine” complaints concerning antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents on campuses. The office has investigated several institutions for allegedly failing to respond to discrimination based on race or national origin. Earlier this year, investigators found that the University of Vermont had mishandled antisemitism complaints, potentially creating a hostile environment for some Jewish students—an indication of how the office could approach similar complaints.
“Through this letter we urge school communities to be vigilant of your students’ rights under Title VI, understanding that we in OCR are and will be,” Lhamon said in a statement. “Jewish students, Israeli students, Muslim students, Arab students, and Palestinian students, and all other students who reside within our school communities have the right to learn in our nation’s schools free from discrimination.”