The Department of Education on Tuesday announced a new investigation into Harvard University’s handling of alleged discrimination on its campus after a federal civil rights complaint was filed late last month against Harvard on behalf of Muslim and Palestinian students.
The students said in the complaint that the school failed to protect them from harassment and intimidation, according to the Muslim Legal Fund of America.
The investigation marks an additional layer of scrutiny on the University over its handling of rising tensions on its campus after Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7. The Department of Education is already investigating Harvard and other universities over alleged incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus.
Harvard did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the investigation.
The complaint was filed on behalf of more than a dozen students who say they faced harassment, intimidation and threats based solely on them being Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and supporters of Palestinian rights, according to MLFA, a legal defense fund dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Muslims and Muslim organizations.
“The issues these students faced are, quite frankly, heart wrenching,” Christina Jump, the lead attorney for the students and the head of the MLFA’s Civil Litigation Department, told CNN in a phone interview last month. “They are trying to walk the campus but they’re getting accosted because they look like someone who might be Palestinian or Muslim. And they are being called terrorists.”
CNN asked for a copy of the complaint, but MLFA declined to provide due to concerns about student privacy. MLFA provided confirmation of the filing of the complaint.
“Many of these students are scared because of what they’re already gone through,” Jump said. “We’ve had students not feel comfortable walking to and from classes alone. Some nearly withdrew and asked to miss class for an extended amount of time.”
The students who asked for help from Harvard were met with “closed doors” or even “threats – by those in positions of power – to limit or retract the students’ future academic opportunities,” MLFA said.
Earlier this month, Harvard Interim President Alan Garber launched a presidential task force designed to fight Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias. The task force, like one launched to fight antisemitism, is being asked to examine the history of bias, identify root causes and recommend ways to address it.
“Reports of antisemitic and Islamophobic acts on our campus have grown, and the sense of belonging among these groups has been undermined,” Garber said. “We need to understand why and how that is happening—and what more we might do to prevent it.”
In October, the names and faces of Harvard students allegedly linked to an anti-Israel statement were plastered on a mobile billboard truck that drove near campus.
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