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DOE launches investigation into Harvard following Islamophobia, anti-Arab complaint

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(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation Tuesday into Harvard University for possible discrimination after Arab and Muslim students filed a civil rights complaint against the university.

More than 60 DOE investigations into K-12 schools, colleges and universities have been opened for alleged discrimination regarding shared ancestry since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

“We support the work of the Office of Civil Rights to ensure students’ rights to access educational programs are safeguarded and will work with the office to address their questions,” Jason Newton, director of Media Relations & Communications at Harvard, said in a statement to ABC News.

The Muslim Legal Fund of America, which filed the complaint on behalf of the students in January, alleges that the students have been targeted with “rampant harassment and racist attacks including doxxing, stalking and assault simply for being Palestinian, Muslim, and supporters of Palestinian rights.”

The group also alleges that some students have been assaulted for wearing keffiyehs, which are traditional Palestinian scarves.

The students who filed the complaint attend Harvard College, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Divinity School, and Harvard Law School. This is at least the second complaint made against Harvard in recent months.

“Our complaint addresses Harvard’s failure to protect more than a dozen students from harassment, intimidation, and threats based solely on their status as Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and supporters of Palestinian rights,” the legal fund said. “This investigation signifies an important step toward accountability and justice for these students, who all deserve the right to learn in a safe environment and the freedom to express their views.”

Harvard has also been under scrutiny for alleged antisemitic activity, prompting administrators to create a Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism.

After the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights receives a complaint, it evaluates and determines whether it will open an investigation, according to the agency.

These investigations have been opened under Title VI, a law that bans discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in any institution or program that receives federal funding from the DOE.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, some college students — including students from Jewish and pro-Israel communities — told ABC News that they do not feel safe on campus and they do not feel supported by their universities.

Harvard has been under scrutiny since tens of student groups issued a statement on the overseas conflict in Israel following the attack. It stated that Israeli policies and its impact on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza are “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence” following the Hamas attack that killed more than 1,200 people.

In the Gaza Strip, at least 27,585 people have been killed and 66,978 others have been wounded by Israeli forces since Oct. 7, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Ministry of Health.

In a previous request for comment on the civil rights complaint, the university said it did not have a comment. Instead, school officials pointed to a list of supports and resources the university put in place for students and pointed to last Friday’s announcement of a Presidential Taskforce on Combating Islamophobia and Anti-Arab Bias.

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