Federal Funds on the Line for Colleges That Fail to Address Antisemitism and Islamophobia

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Educational institutions across the U.S. are being called upon to address the growing prevalence of antisemitism and Islamophobia on their campuses amid the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

In a Tuesday letter, the U.S. Department of Education underscored the urgency of combating such discrimination in schools and colleges, emphasizing the legal obligation of these institutions to provide a welcoming environment for all students.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to upholding the civil rights of students of all backgrounds, including students who are, or who are perceived to be, Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian or of any other shared ancestry,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in the letter. “College and university leaders must be unequivocal about condemning hatred and violence and work harder than ever to ensure all students have the freedom to learn in safe and inclusive campus communities.”

On Monday, Cardona told CNN that withholding federal funds from educational institutions is not his initial course of action regarding discrimination issues as he would prefer to offer support and guidance to universities first. However, if serious violations occur, investigations will be conducted and schools could face financial consequences.

“Ultimately, if we have to withhold dollars from a campus refusing to comply, we would,” he said.

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently updated its complaint form to clarify that Title VI’s protections against discrimination on the grounds of race, color, or national origin also apply to students who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh, as well as those discriminated against due to shared ancestry or ethnic traits.

Universities across the U.S. are grappling with heightened tensions as pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protests on campuses lead to increased incidents of harassment and concerns for student safety. Higher education institutions are being challenged to maintain a safe environment for all students while also respecting the principles of free speech, especially as fear escalates among both Jewish and Muslim student populations.

“Jewish students, Israeli students, Muslim students, Arab students, and Palestinian students, and all other students who reside within our school communities have the right to learn in our nation’s schools free from discrimination,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon in the department’s letter.