MLFA Files Federal Civil Rights Complaint with Department of Education on behalf of Harvard Palestinian and Muslim Students

January 29, 2024

Boston, MA: On Monday, January 29, 2024, the legal division of the Muslim Legal Fund of America filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on behalf of more than a dozen students, demanding an immediate investigation into Harvard’s failure to protect these students from harassment, intimidation, threats and more based solely on them being Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and supporters of Palestinian rights.

For months, students at Harvard have been targeted with rampant harassment and racist attacks including doxxing, stalking, and assault simply for being Palestinian, Muslim, and supporters of Palestinian rights. Some have been assaulted simply for wearing keffiyehs — traditional Palestinian scarves — including having objects thrown at them or poured on them on campus. Others have been stalked while working at their on-campus student jobs. Many endured repeated doxxing and threats, even those who did nothing to put themselves in the public eye.

“As a Palestinian student at Harvard, the racism and harassment I have faced is shocking, terrifying, and outrageous,” said one of the students. “We have been chased, spat at, stalked, and hounded by doxxing trucks on campus, and even at our families’ homes. On top of worrying about my family’s safety in Palestine, I’m living in fear of being attacked while walking to class. No student should have to live like this.”

Instead of providing protection or resources, Harvard responded to the students’ requests for help with closed doors, and in some cases threats — by those in positions of power — to limit or retract the students’ future academic opportunities.

“Harvard administrators repeatedly denied our requests for protection, abandoning us while a hostile, hateful environment ballooned on campus,” said another student. “We’re calling on the Department of Education to do what Harvard refused to do — truly investigate what happened to us, hear our voices, and bring accountability so that no other student has to experience the racism and harassment we did.”

The students attend Harvard College, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Divinity School, and Harvard Law School. Some are Palestinian with family members in Gaza as well as in the occupied West Bank. Some of the students are Muslim, and some are allies who have been targeted for voicing their support for Palestinian rights at peaceful campus protests. They all feel let down by Harvard University’s failure to protect them.

“We are proud to help these brave students find a voice and assert their rights to learn free and safe from harm, consistent with the First Amendment of our nation’s Constitution,” said Civil Litigation Department Head Christina A. Jump, lead attorney for the students.  “They deserve that, just like any other student — let them learn, and learn in a safe space.”

 “I’m extremely disappointed by what I’ve heard these students experienced,” said Chelsea Glover, Senior Civil Litigation Staff Attorney and co-counsel of record on the complaint. “Harvard’s Palestinian, Muslim and Arab students deserve the same protections on campus as all other students.”

Harvard’s actions take place against a backdrop of surging hate crimes and violence against Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab students across college campuses. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 assures these students deserve the same protections and equal treatment as everyone else, including the right to a safe place to learn, as well as the right to speak and advocate freely for the basic rights and freedoms of Palestinians. The Department of Education reaffirmed this right in its November 7, 2023 “Dear Colleague” letter. We urge the Office of Civil Rights to swiftly open an investigation into Harvard’s failure to protect its students, and ensure accountability for Harvard’s permissive discrimination against these students. 

About Muslim Legal Fund of America: For over two decades, the Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA) has been the leading nonprofit 501 (c)(3) entity funding and defending Muslims in America against government discrimination at the federal level. MLFA is the only national tax-exempt nonprofit Muslim criminal legal defense fund. Dedicated to safeguarding the civil rights and liberties of Muslims and Muslim organizations, experts in constitutional law and national security.