Education Department opens probes into Penn and other schools over alleged antisemitism, Islamophobia

Locust Walk on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Locust Walk on the University of Pennsylvania campus. (Ximena Conde/WHYY)

The Department of Education released on Thursday a list of K-12 and higher education institutions under investigation over alleged incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

In its announcement, the Education Department said five complaints involve alleged antisemitic harassment and two involve anti-Muslim harassment. The investigations were launched, the department said, to address the “alarming nationwide rise in reports of antisemitism, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and other forms of discrimination and harassment” in U.S. schools and colleges sparked by the deadly Oct. 7 attack in Israel by the militant group Hamas and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“Hate has no place in our schools, period,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in the department’s announcement. “When students are targeted because they are — or are perceived to be — Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, or any other ethnicity or shared ancestry, schools must act to ensure safe and inclusive educational environments where everyone is free to learn.”

According to the Education Department, the schools being investigated include the Maize Unified School District, a public district in Kansas; Cornell University and Columbia University in New York; Lafayette College in Pennsylvania; the University of Pennsylvania, Wellesley College in Massachusetts; and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a private college in New York City. Schools could not be reached for comment Thursday evening. But several have condemned discrimination after incidents had been reported on campus.

The investigations were launched under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits race, color, or national origin discrimination, including harassment based on a person’s shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics. All colleges, universities and K-12 schools receiving federal funds must comply with Title VI or risk losing that funding.

The social tensions across the U.S. have spilled onto the country’s campuses, with colleges coming under increasing pressure to curb antisemitism and Islamophobia. In late October, federal prosecutors filed charges against a 21-year-old student at Cornell University for allegedly posting online violent threats against Jewish students.

“We remain shocked by and condemn these horrific, antisemitic threats and believe they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” a Cornell spokesman said in a statement at the time of the charges.

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