Feds to probe Harvard’s response to harassment of pro-Palestinian students

02/08/24 Reposted from jpost.com

A group alleges students have been harassed while attending pro-Palestinian vigils and working student jobs, assaulted while walking to campus libraries, and stalked by classmates.

As Harvard University has become ground zero in the debate around campus antisemitism, a new federal investigation at the school will determine whether it has done enough to stop harassment of Palestinian students and their allies.

The Title VI investigation comes at a tense moment for the Ivy League institution, whose president recently resigned after angering Jewish groups with her congressional testimony about campus antisemitism. (She subsequently faced plagiarism allegations.) But an attorney for the Palestinian students told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency she views their case as largely similar to what Jewish students have gone through.

“These are parallel complaints that identify the same failures of Harvard administration across the board,” said Christina Jump, head litigator at the Muslim Legal Fund of America. “It’s a systemic failure by Harvard to not address these complaints by students in minority religious groups.”

The group alleges that students had been harassed while attending pro-Palestinian vigils and working student jobs, assaulted while walking to campus libraries, stalked by classmates and faced racial profiling by professors and doxxing, or the revealing of personal information, on campus. According to Jump, the most common form of harassment students faced was when they wore keffiyehs, or traditional Palestinian headscarves.

The Texas-based legal nonprofit filed the Title VI complaint that triggered the new Department of Education investigation on behalf of what Jump said were more than a dozen Muslim, Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students, whose identities are being kept anonymous. The investigation is one of six new discrimination cases opened this week by the department’s Office of Civil Rights, bringing the total number of investigations it has opened since Oct. 7 to more than 60.

Harvard was also the subject of a previous Title VI investigation alleging the university had failed to respond to allegations of antisemitism after Oct. 7; the department closed this investigation last month after a federal lawsuit alleging similar failures was filed against the university.

Opening investigations does not mean the department believes the complaints have merit, only that they meet the eligibility criteria. Still, failure to reach a resolution could jeopardize federal funding for the schools in question.

While many of the new investigations, including at least three announced Wednesday — at Indiana University, The New School in New York City and the University of South Florida — stem from complaints about antisemitism, the Harvard investigation joins a growing slate prompted by Muslim interest groups. Another, opened last week at a Minnesota public school district, will investigate whether the district acted appropriately when it reportedly suspended two students for chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

“Harvard’s primary responsibility should be to its current students, not wealthy donors and alumni with personal agendas that harm students who support Palestinian freedom,” Chelsea Glover, an attorney with MLFA, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Glover criticized Harvard for brushing aside the complainants’ concerns while meeting with “prominent donors and alumni who encouraged the student harassment and doxxing.”

Jump added that students tried to seek help from the university, but “in some instances they were told specifically that ‘we’re not really sure that a Palestinian identity is a real thing anyway.’” She wants the investigation to push the university “to now be in a position of accountability, to recognize that it did fail, it did not train as it should, it did not provide responses to the students as it should have, it did not condemn racist statements and inappropriate language and harassment which was occurring on campus.”

The complaint itself does not name any of these donors and alumni, Jump said. But Bill Ackman, a Jewish billionaire investor, Harvard alum and pro-Israel advocate, led a social media campaign to name students who signed anti-Israel statements in the aftermath of Oct. 7, so that potential employers would be aware of their views. Ackman also encouraged pro-Israel donors to withhold donations to Harvard and fueled the campaign against the president, Claudine Gay, before her resignation.

One unnamed student, quoted in an MLFA release about the complaint, mentioned being “hounded by doxxing trucks on campus, and even at our families’ homes.” The right-wing group Accuracy in Media drove trucks through Harvard’s campus in the weeks after Oct. 7 displaying the names, photos and other personal information of students it claimed were members of groups that had signed the statements solely blaming Israel for the events of the day.

“Harvard’s Leading Antisemites,” the truck messages called them. Jewish groups objected to the truck’s presence on campus; Harvard Hillel said it “strongly condemns” the truck, adding that “accountability” for the students who signed the statement should “under no circumstances … extend to public intimidation of individuals.”

Accuracy in Media continues to deploy its aggressive tactics at campuses across the country. Another truck was recently reported at the University of California, Berkeley, where the group previously called attention to anti-Zionist law students.