Civil Rights Suits Filed Against UMass, Columbia

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Photo by Sebastian Pichler

The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst and Columbia University are now under the spotlight, both facing allegations of failing to uphold civil rights protections and ensuring the safety and well-being of their diverse student populations.

UMass Amherst is under the scrutiny of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, with two separate investigations launched into alleged violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The first complaint, filed by Palestine Legal, highlights incidents of extreme anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab harassment targeting several UMass Amherst students both on campus and online. This has prompted the Department of Education to open a formal investigation into the university’s handling of these matters.

Simultaneously, another investigation stems from concerns in February, wherein the university faced accusations of mishandling incidents, including an altercation involving Pro-Hamas students and harassment of a Jewish reporter. According to Campus Reform, this investigation was initiated after complaints alleging discrimination based on shared Jewish ancestry.

In response to these developments, a UMass spokesperson stated, “The University of Massachusetts Amherst does not tolerate discrimination based on national origin under its Affirmative Action, Non-Discrimination, and Title IX Non-Discrimination Policy.” The institution emphasized its commitment to maintaining an inclusive and respectful environment, condemning all forms of bigotry.

In a parallel scenario, Columbia University is embroiled in its own civil rights complaint, also lodged by Palestine Legal with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. This complaint, filed on behalf of four students and the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, accuses the university of discriminatory treatment towards Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim students and their supporters. It alleges that Columbia failed to protect these students from harassment and death threats, in violation of Title VI.

The complaint points to incidents of anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic harassment targeting Columbia students, including a chemical attack on protesters resulting in hospitalizations and instances of doxxing. Criticism has also been directed at the university’s recent decision to involve police in responding to a pro-Palestinian protest, viewed as discriminatory treatment by the complainants.

Maryam Alwan, one of the Columbia students involved in filing the complaint, expressed disappointment in the university’s failure to protect students from racism and abuse during protests. She emphasized the need for accountability and urged for public apologies and condemnations of anti-Palestinian racism and discrimination.

“The violent repression we’re facing as peaceful anti-war protesters is appalling,” Alwan said in a statement to Palestine Legal on April 25.