Lafayette College among 7 schools under federal hate probe since start of Israel-Hamas war
PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. Department of Education has launched investigations into seven schools, including Lafayette College, over alleged incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia.
A news release said the action is “ part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s continued efforts to take aggressive action to address the alarming nationwide rise in reports of antisemitism, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and other forms of discrimination and harassment on college campuses and in K-12 schools since the October 7 Israel-Hamas conflict.”
The list from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights said the seven higher education and K-12 institutions were under investigation for “alleged shared ancestry violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), which prohibits race, color, or national origin discrimination, including harassment based on a person’s shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”
The investigations include five antisemitism cases and two Islamophobia cases.
A statement released by Lafayette College said it received notice Thursday of the Office for Civil Rights investigation.
"We do not know why the OCR decided to include the College in this investigation," the statement said. "To the contrary, as recently as last week, students of differing views shared a peaceful gathering on campus to honor all those who have died in the recent violence in the Middle East. This event was typical of how our campus community has acted with care and kindness during this time. The College maintains a firm stance against antisemitism, Islamophobia, and hate speech of any kind."
Lafayette is cooperating fully with the Department of Education investigation, according to the college.
President Nicole Hurd addressed the investigation Friday in a message posted on the college website.
"The OCR letter states, 'The Complainant alleges that the College discriminated against students on the basis of national origin (shared Jewish ancestry) by failing to respond to incidents of harassment in October 2023.' There was a problematic poster at a peaceful event on Oct. 25 that was quickly addressed. The College maintains a firm stance against antisemitism, Islamophobia, and hate speech of any kind."
Hurd described more about the poster that day in a message to students, faculty and staff:
"As you know, we have a policy against hate speech, and the College will take appropriate steps if violations of that policy emerge," she said. "An incident of deep concern occurred today when a poster bearing words with antisemitic meaning was held up during what was an otherwise peaceful walkout, part of a national event against the violence in Gaza. This incident was immediately reviewed by our student life team, and will be addressed through our bias incident accountability process."
Said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in the news release about the investigations:
"Hate has no place in our schools, period. 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.
“These investigations underscore how seriously the Biden-Harris Administration, including the U.S. Department of Education, takes our responsibility to protect students from hatred and discrimination.”
Other institutions included in the investigation are Columbia University, Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, Wellesley College, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, and the Maize Unified School District in Maize, Kansas.
Investigations do not mean that the institution violated a federal anti-discrimination statute, according to the Department of Education. It means that a complaint was filed with the Office of Civil Rights and the agency determined the complaint should be opened for investigation, or has opened a compliance review.
In the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel, Lafayette hosted an interfaith vigil on Saturday, Oct. 14, at Colton Chapel.
In the spring, the college denied a student group's request to form a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, according to the student-run newspaper The Lafayette. The newspaper reported Lafayette's Office of Student Life warned the proposed chapter might violate college policy "by targeting or disrupting other clubs and individuals on campus."