Top US universities including Cornell, Columbia, Wellesley, and the University of Pennsylvania are on a list of schools the federal Department of Education is investigating for antisemitism and Islamophobia.
"Hate has no place in our schools, period. When students are targeted because they are—or are perceived to be—Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, or any other ethnicity or shared ancestry, schools must act to ensure safe and inclusive educational environments where everyone is free to learn,” Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement on Thursday.
“These investigations underscore how seriously the Biden-Harris Administration, including the US Department of Education, takes our responsibility to protect students from hatred and discrimination.”
The DOE did not specify which incidents were under investigation at the listed institutions, a group that also included New York’s Cooper Union, Pennsylvania’s Lafayette College, and a Kansas public school district.
The Independent has contacted the universities for comment.
“We have received the notification letter from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and will cooperate with any investigation,” Columbia said.
The University of Pennsylvania told The Independent it was looking forward to “cooperating fully” with the investigation.
“The University is taking clear and comprehensive action to prevent, address, and respond to antisemitism, with an action plan anchored in the National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism,” a Penn spokesman said in an email. “[Penn president] President [M Elizabeth] Magill has made clear antisemitism is vile and pernicious and has no place at Penn; the University will continue to vigilantly combat antisemitism and all forms of hate.”
Cornell said it was unable to comment.
“Wellesley has been committed to addressing issues of antisemitism on our campus and will continue to work to create an environment that supports free expression and rejects all forms of hate and discrimination,” the university said in a statement to CNN.
The school said in email to The Independent that the DOE was investigating two incidents: a teach-in in which “faculty shared historical context and perspective on the Israel/Palestine conflict with students,” and an incident in which residence hall leaders expressed criticisms of Zionism in a message to residents.
“Our Student Life team met with these students and talked about their role and responsibility to support all students,” Wellesley president Paula A Johnson said in an October letter to students about the incident. “They have since sent an apology to all students in the residence hall. That these young leaders were able to learn from this episode gives me hope.”
In a letter to students, Lafayette president Nicole Hurd described the incident that’s being investigated on its campus.
“There was a problematic poster at a peaceful event on Oct. 25 that was quickly addressed,” the letter reads. “The College maintains a firm stance against antisemitism, Islamophobia, and hate speech of any kind.”
As The Independent has reported, campuses across the US have been at the epicentre of cultural tensions surrounding the Israel-Hamas war.
Students, including both Jews and Muslims, and those who identify as supporters and critics of Israel, have been attacked, harassed, and threatened.
In October, a 19-year-old was charged with hate crimes for allegedly assaulting an Israeli student at Columbia University for hanging posters about Israeli civilian deaths and hostages.
On 31 October, a 21-year-old junior at New York’s Cornell University named Patrick Dai was arrested for allegedly making a series of extreme violent threats towards the school’s Jewish population.
Earlier this month, at Stanford University in California, an Arab Muslim student was struck in a hit-and-run, with the driver allegedly yelling, “F*** you and your people,” in what the California Highway Patrol and Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office are investigating as a hate crime.
The Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights group that tracks antisemitism and other forms of extremism, says it has seen a 400-per cent increase in antisemitic incidents across the US since the war started, from vandalism and assault to “anti-Israel rallies” and events with “implicit support for Hamas”.
“This is a threat that is reaching, in some way, sort of historic levels,” FBI director Christopher Wray testified before Congress in October. “In fact, our statistics would indicate that for a group that represents only about 2.4 per cent of the American public, they account for something like 60 per cent of all religious-based hate crimes.”