Harvard faces more claims of discrimination — this time from Palestinian and Muslim students

01/29/24 Reposted from wbur.org

A Muslim civil rights organization is the latest group to charge that Harvard has not done enough to protect students since war broke out in Israel and Gaza on Oct. 7.

In a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA) alleges that Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students have been followed, confronted and even attacked as they moved about Harvard’s campus and classrooms, with little response from the university.

The complaint was filed Monday on behalf of eight students from across Harvard’s several schools, including some pro-Palestinian allies who are neither Muslim nor of Arab descent, according to a press release from MLFA.

A federal lawsuit filed by Jewish students earlier this month accused Harvard of letting antisemitism grow unchecked on its campus.

Christina Jump, MLFA’s lead attorney who helped draft the new complaint, says the parallel allegations serve as corroborating evidence that Harvard “is not addressing religious discrimination and religious harassment” across the board.

The full text of the new complaint is not yet public, due to the fears of Palestinian students and their allies who have already lost their jobs or had their names and images published online, according to Jump.

Jump — head of civil litigation for the MLFA — said the complaint finds “clear violations” of federal civil rights law, cases in which students were “harassed or accused of ‘terrorism,’ for sitting there and looking Muslim.”

For instance, she said, nearly all of the eight participating students faced harsh consequences for wearing the keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian scarf, on campus.

“They were stopped by other Harvard students, Harvard administration, professors or other Harvard employees, and harassed, heckled,” Jump said in an interview Monday. “Some of them had things thrown at them, some of them had things poured on them. Many of them were called ‘terrorists,’ simply for wearing the scarf.”

Pro-Palestinian Harvard students of all backgrounds have worn keffiyehs on Thursdays since at least 2022, according to reporting in the Harvard Crimson. But the tradition grew in mid-October, as Israel’s campaign against Gaza began in earnest.

In December, a video circulated of Eve Gerber — the wife of Jason Furman, a prominent professor of economics at Harvard — accosting a keffiyeh-wearing Harvard graduate student just off campus in October. Gerber has since apologized.

When students at Harvard reported instances of anti-Muslim harassment, Jump said administrators either dismissed the complaints or never got back to the students.

Harvard declined to comment on this latest complaint. After months of conflict on campus, and the ouster of its former president, interim leader Alan Garber announced new task forces on combating Islamophobia and antisemitism earlier this month.

Complaints to the Department of Education start a slow and opaque process. But Jump said the students hope it will spur change.

She hopes Harvard will launch a complete and thorough investigation of the claims and more assertively protect the students who have had their names, addresses and photographs published online — and on a display truck near campus.

“In the past, Harvard has provided remedies for students who feel threatened … that has not happened here,” Jump said. “And the silence has allowed the threats to grow, because there haven’t been any repercussions.”