Catherine Lhamon, the U.S. assistant secretary for civil rights, published a “Dear colleague” letter on Tuesday “reminding” colleges, universities and other schools that receive federal funding of their obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Such schools must “provide all students a school environment free from
discrimination based on race, color or national origin, including shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics,” Lhamon wrote.
“It is your legal obligation under Title VI to address prohibited discrimination against students and others on your campus, including those who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab or Palestinian,” she added.
Her office interprets “harassing conduct” as “verbal or physical” and the hatred “need not be directed at a particular individual.” The letter lists “unwelcome conduct based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics that, based on the totality of circumstances, is subjectively and objectively offensive and is so severe or pervasive that it limits or
denies a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from the recipient’s education program or activity.”
“Schools must take immediate and effective action to respond to harassment that creates a hostile environment,” the official wrote.
Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel education organization StandWithUs, told JNS that Jewish and pro-Israel students “are experiencing hateful attacks at an unprecedented level.”
“While some offensive speech may enjoy constitutional protection, much of what students are reporting to StandWithUs does not,” she said. “Administrators have an affirmative duty to take concrete action to protect these students against a hostile antisemitic climate, including ensuring that campus police are physically present to protect Jewish students and make arrests when Jewish students are targeted.”
StandWithUs wrote to thousands of U.S. universities “to remind them of their legal duties to Jewish and Israeli students and to identify specific actions they should take to align themselves with the requirements of Title VI, civil rights laws and criminal laws for the safety of the entire campus community,” Rothstein added.
Several Republican presidential candidates have called for the U.S. Education Department to be shuttered.