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As Jew-hatred spreads on campus, Ed Department ‘reminds’ schools about Title VI obligations

The U.S. education secretary wrote that he is “deeply concerned” about “repeated reports of antisemitic and anti-Israeli, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian harassment on our campuses and in our communities.”

Miguel Cardona, the U.S. education secretary, speaks at the 2024 Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities on Feb. 5, 2024. Credit: U.S. Department of Education.
Miguel Cardona, the U.S. education secretary, speaks at the 2024 Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities on Feb. 5, 2024. Credit: U.S. Department of Education.

As U.S. President Joe Biden spoke about Jew-hatred at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Days of Remembrance commemoration, the U.S. Education Department released a “dear colleague” letter “reminding” schools that they cannot discriminate based on “shared ancestry” under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“I continue to be deeply concerned by the repeated reports of antisemitic and anti-Israeli, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian harassment on our campuses and in our communities. These incidents are abhorrent, period,” stated Miguel Cardona, the U.S. education secretary.

“There is nothing more important than making sure students feel safe on campus,” Cardona stated. “The administration will continue to develop and provide resources and support to ensure safe, supportive school environments. The department will investigate and address any possible discrimination that causes harm to students and we will continue to remind schools of their responsibilities to enforce Title IV.”

The Title VI protections “extend to students and school community members who are or are perceived because of their shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, Hindu, Palestinian or any other faith or ancestry,” per the department’s letter.

Schools that receive federal funding from the department are legally required to respond to discrimination that “involves racial, ethnic or ancestral slurs or stereotypes” that “is based on a student’s skin color, physical features or style of dress that reflects both ethnic and religious traditions” or “is based on the country or region where a student is from or is perceived to have come from, including, for example, discrimination based on a student’s accent or name, a student’s limited English proficiency or a student speaking a language other than English,” according to the department.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights “designed this resource to help school communities know how to ensure every student has equal access to education without a hostile environment based on negative stereotypes or bias about where their families come from,” stated Catherine Lhamon, the U.S. assistant secretary of education for civil rights.

Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, told JNS that the OU wrote a letter to the department “about the need to put out this kind of guidance as far back as December, the day after the congressional hearing with the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn.”

Diament said that the new guidance includes “very clear, explicit and illustrative examples.” 

“They very clearly said if these kinds of things are happening and university administrators do not respond appropriately, that would likely trigger an investigation by the civil rights office and potentially lead to penalties against the university,” he said.

Even highly-educated leaders at top U.S. universities require these sort of detailed examples, according to Diament.

“One of the things we’ve learned in recent weeks is that university administrators are not necessarily at the top of their game in dealing with difficult situations,” he said. “If this puts more pressure on them or educates them better then that’s useful.”

The department needs to bring some of its open Title VI investigations to a conclusion, Diament said. “The world needs to see that there are actually consequences to bad actions.”

According to the White House, the department has opened more than 100 Title VI investigations in the last seven months.

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