US Dept. of Education investigating Wellesley College for alleged antisemitism

The U.S. Department of Education this week opened investigations into alleged antisemitism at Wellesley College and a handful of other schools based on incidents of possible discrimination and harassment that have emerged since the Israel-Hamas conflict started. The department cited an “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 last month.

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights released a list of the higher education and K-12 institutions 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.”

“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,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, in a statement. “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.”

The Department of Education action follows a complaint filed with its Office for Civil Rights by the Brandeis Center, a civil rights organization, related to alleged incidents at Wellesley College. The College made national headlines following an email sent by a resident assistant to students in which it was stated that “Munger Hall stands in strong condemnation of Israel’s actions and those who have supported their actions against Palestinians. We firmly believe that there should be no space, no consideration, and no support for Zionism within the Wellesley College community.”  College President Paula Johnson addressed the issue with an update to an earlier post to the campus about the violence in Israel and Gaza.

In response to the Department of Education investigation announcement, the college issued the following statement:

Wellesley was recently notified by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that it will be conducting a review into the complaint filed by the Brandeis Center. OCR is a neutral agency tasked with ensuring that higher education institutions are complying with the law; OCR’s decision to investigate does not presume that Wellesley has violated any federal civil rights laws.

Wellesley responded quickly and decisively to the incident involving student leaders in a residence hall detailed in the Brandeis Center complaint and has shared its response in multiple communications to our community, while making clear antisemitism has no place at Wellesley

The Brandeis Center complaint also refers to a teach-in in which several Wellesley faculty shared historical context and perspective on the Israel/Palestine conflict with students. Reports from faculty who participated in the teach-in do not support these allegations. We welcome OCR’s review of both these matters.  

Wellesley has been committed to addressing issues of antisemitism on our campus and will continue to work to create an environment that supports free expression and rejects all forms of hate and discrimination.