ITHACA, N.Y.—The U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into potential civil rights violations at Cornell University. The department named Cornell and five other universities that are included in the investigation due to recent 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 other schools placed under investigation are Lafayette College, Columbia University, Wellesley College, University of Pennsylvania and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. A school district in Kansas was also included in the list. Cornell, Columbia and Cooper Union are all located in New York.
The law the schools are under investigation for potentially violating, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, calls for any school receiving federal funding to “provide all students a school environment free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin, including shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”
If the schools under investigation “violate the law and refuse to address the problems identified by [the Office of Civil Rights]” they risk either losing federal funding or being referred to the Department of Justice, according to the Department of Education’s announcement.
“It is your legal obligation under Title VI to address prohibited discrimination against students and others on your campus—including those who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian,” according to a letter sent to the schools last week by Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon.
Cornell University Media Relations Coordinator Rebecca Valli declined to comment.
In 2023, 24 schools were placed under shared ancestry investigation for such incidents. Since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel, nine schools around the country have been placed under investigation, including the six announced Thursday.
It is unclear what specific incident has led to the investigation into Cornell. The Department of Education’s announcement only states that of the seven entities newly under investigation, five of them stem from complaints of antisemitic harassment, while two stem from complaints of anti-Muslim harassment.
The ongoing Hamas-Israeli war has caused significant tension on Cornell’s campus since early October. Professor Russell Rickford went on administrative leave after his comments at a small rally in Ithaca regarding the initial attacks made national headlines.
Late last month, Patrick Dai, a Cornell student from Pittsford, New York, posted several violent threats against the Jewish students at the school on an online forum. Dai, whose parents have said is suffering from mental health issues, was then arrested and charged with a federal crime. It has been reported that Dai apologized on the forum before he was arrested.
The incident provoked a visit to the school from Governor Kathy Hochul on Oct. 30 to show support for the university’s Jewish community. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, also paid a visit to meet with Jewish students at Cornell.
Pro-Palestinian student groups at Cornell have also complained of having their personal information published online to intimidate them from speaking out. Students who participated in protests against Israel’s counterattack on Gaza have had extensive personal and professional information compiled and posted online.
There have also been several reports of graffiti around Cornell’s campus condemning Israel’s current military action in Gaza, while “Kidnapped” posters featuring images of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas forces have been posted around the Ithaca Commons. Most of the posters have been torn down since being put up.
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