Harvard Palestinian students file civil rights complaint against school – USA TODAY

More than a dozen Palestinian and Muslim students say Harvard University has failed to protect and defend them from discrimination, harassment and outright threats, according to a civil rights complaint filed with the U.S. Education Department. 
The filing Monday by the Muslim Legal Fund of America, or MLFA, calls on the federal government to investigate Harvard’s response to reported assaults. The harassment outlined in the complaint was directed largely at student activists advocating for Palestinian rights amid the Israel-Hamas conflict. 
Some of the targeted students were wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian scarves, when attackers threw objects at or poured things on them, the complaint says. MLFA says others were stalked at their on-campus jobs and subjected to frequent doxxing and intimidation. Some people targeted had not participated in public activism, the complaint says. 
The complaint comes amid a steep rise in hate crimes and aggression targeted at people engaged in protests related to the Israel-Hamas war. Since the start of the war, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has opened investigations into both anti-Muslim and antisemitic harassment at numerous colleges, including Columbia, Cornell, Wellesley and the University of Pennsylvania. 
More than 50 “shared ancestry” complaints have been filed with the department’s Office for Civil Rights since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. These complaints involve allegations of discrimination or harassment based on a “student’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.” Because officials avoid commenting while matters are under investigation, it’s unclear how many of the dozens of complaints filed since October involve concerns about antisemitism or anti-Muslim discrimination. 
Israel-Hamas protests roiled campuses:Now, the feds are investigating colleges and schools
The office told USA TODAY it does not confirm civil rights filings. A federal online database that is updated weekly does not yet show the department has opened a “shared ancestry” investigation in response to a complaint against Harvard. According to Palestine Legal, the allegations submitted Monday involve one of the very few complaints filed about a campus’ response to discrimination against Palestinians. The first was filed in 2021 against Florida State University, the group said.
Catherine E. Lhamon, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, in November issued a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter to schools and colleges reminding them that antisemitism, Islamophobia and other hate-based discrimination “have no place in our nation’s schools.” That harassment, she wrote, can entail “unwelcome conduct” that “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.”
Lhamon has stressed that a civil rights investigation into an institution does not “reflect a conclusion that the law has been violated.” But she noted that schools receiving federal funding are obligated to address such discrimination with “immediate and effective action.” 
The complaint says Harvard did little to support the students targeted by the alleged anti-Muslim harassment in the past few months. Campus leaders told some of the students they were putting their future academic opportunities at risk by protesting, according to the group.
Chelsea Glover, a senior civil litigation staff attorney involved in the complaint, said in a statement she was “extremely disappointed” by the details of what the students endured.
“Harvard’s Palestinian, Muslim and Arab students deserve the same protections on campus as all other students,” Glover said.
Harvard declined to comment about the complaint, but Jason Newton, a school spokesman, provided a document detailing the resources it has put in place to support students. They include a Presidential Task Force on Combatting Islamophobia and Anti-Arab Bias.
Claudine Gay was just the start:US college presidents feel a chilling effect
In December, Harvard’s then-president, Claudine Gay, testified alongside then-University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill, at a Congressional hearing on antisemitism. The two equivocated when asked to denounce certain activists’ calls for the genocide of Jews on campus, in botched moments that had major repercussions for both administrators. Magill quickly resigned from her post, and Gay stepped down a few weeks later, her downfall fueled by accusations that she’d plagiarized in her scholarship. 
Just this week, the department settled an antisemitism complaint filed against a school district in Delaware last June. A Jewish student in the Red Clay Consolidated School District, the investigation found, had been harassed by her peers because of her identity, including with bloody imagery and messages accompanied by swastikas and a “Heil Hitler” salute. The district’s responses to the behavior were “haphazard,” the civil rights office concluded. The feds ordered school officials to reimburse the girl’s family for the cost of counseling and mandated improved anti-discrimination training for staff. 


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