The Biden administration says colleges must combat the ‘alarming rise’ in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

FILE – Samuel Winkler wears a Hillel yarmulke during a visit by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to Towson University to discuss anti-Semitism on college campuses, Nov. 2, 2023, in Towson, Maryland.  The Biden administration is warning US schools and colleges that they need immediate action to stop anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on their campuses, citing an alarming increase in threats and harassment.  (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File)

(Julia Nikhinson/Associated Press)

The Biden administration says colleges must combat the ‘alarming rise’ in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

Education, Israel-Hamas

Associated press

November 7, 2023

The Biden administration is warning U.S. schools and colleges that they must take immediate action to stop anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on their campuses, citing an alarming increase in threats and harassment.

In a letter dated Tuesday, the Ministry of Education said there is renewed urgency to combat discrimination against students during the war between Israel and Hamas. The letter reminds schools of their legal duty to protect students and intervene to stop harassment that disrupts their education.

Hate-based discrimination, including on the basis of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, among other things, has no place in our nation’s schools, wrote Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the department.

Universities have faced increasing criticism over their response to the war and its resonance in American schools. Jewish and Muslim students on many campuses say not enough is being done to keep them safe. Protests have sometimes turned violent, including at a recent demonstration at Tulane University, while threats of violence have rocked campuses including Cornell University.

The Department of Education offered few details about how colleges should respond, and it did little to answer questions about where to draw the line between political speech and harassment. Instead, it outlined the broad duties of schools under the Civil Rights Act.

It says schools must intervene to stop behavior that is 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 educational program or activity. It called on schools to be vigilant in protecting the rights of your students.

The Ministry of Education investigates reports of civil rights violations at schools and universities. Institutions could face fines that could result in the loss of federal money.

At a meeting with a group of Jewish students from Baltimore-area colleges last week, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he was shocked and appalled by incidents of anti-Semitism on American campuses. He pledged to support universities in their efforts to protect students of all backgrounds.

In other actions, federal law enforcement officials have worked with campus police to assess threats and improve security. Last week, the Department of Education added language to a federal complaint form clarifying that certain forms of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are prohibited by federal civil rights law.

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