Monday, June 17, 2024

CUNY Failed to Protect Students During Palestinian Protests

Recent Developments in Campus Civil Rights: The Case of CUNY

The City University of New York (CUNY) has recently been under scrutiny following a series of investigations by the U.S. Department of Education, which found that the institution failed to adequately protect Jewish students from discrimination. This has raised significant concerns about the enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

The investigations were prompted by incidents that occurred in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas. These events led to a surge in campus activism, which, according to some Jewish students, fostered an antisemitic climate. The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) concluded that both CUNY and the University of Michigan did not comply with Title VI requirements to investigate whether the protests created a hostile environment for students.

In one reported incident at the University of Michigan, a Jewish student's request for conflict resolution was denied after they reported harassment on social media. The university's response, citing free speech, highlights the complex balance between protecting civil rights and preserving freedom of expression. Similarly, at CUNY, the OCR found that the university did not take appropriate action regarding reports of antisemitic discrimination, leading to resolutions aimed at addressing these failures.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona emphasized that hate has no place on college campuses and acknowledged the challenging moment for school communities across the country. The commitments made by CUNY and the University of Michigan to improve training about antisemitism and reevaluate past allegations are seen as a positive step forward.

Specific Incidents at CUNY: A Closer Look at Campus Civil Rights Issues

The City University of New York (CUNY) has been the focus of several federal complaints alleging a failure to protect students from discrimination. These incidents have brought to light the challenges that institutions face in maintaining a safe and inclusive environment for all students. Here are some specific incidents that have been reported:

1. Brooklyn College: In the fall of 2020, white and Jewish students in the Graduate Program for Mental Health Counseling reported being bullied and labeled as "privileged." When a student raised a complaint, they were allegedly advised by the deputy director of the program to "keep quiet" and "keep their heads down".

2. Hunter College: During two Zoom sessions of a Hunter College course in 2021, students and professors reportedly hijacked the meeting to read a statement calling for the decolonization of Palestine and demonizing Israel. This incident left several students expressing fear in the Zoom chat. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) found that Hunter College concluded without interviewing students present that the disruption did not deny access to education.

3. CUNY Law School: A video from 2020 showed a CUNY Law School student holding a lighter flame close to a sweatshirt with the emblem of the Israel Defense Forces, claiming she was going to set it on fire. The complainant alleged that this constituted antisemitic harassment and that the response from the Law School was inadequate.

These incidents, among others, prompted the U.S. Department of Education to investigate and conclude that CUNY did not comply with Title VI requirements to investigate whether the protests created a hostile environment for students. The resolution agreements require CUNY to reassess their policies and practices to better protect students' civil rights.

The settlements and the ongoing federal monitoring are steps toward ensuring that CUNY addresses these issues adequately. It is a reminder of the importance of vigilance and responsiveness from educational institutions to uphold a safe and inclusive academic environment for all students. The details of the settlement and the specific steps that CUNY will take to actively address discrimination are crucial for the university community and will be closely monitored by stakeholders and civil rights advocates.

This situation underscores the importance of clear policies and proactive measures to protect students from discrimination. It also serves as a reminder of the ongoing need for vigilance and responsiveness from educational institutions to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all students.

The resolutions agreed upon by the universities will require them to reassess their policies and practices to better protect students' civil rights. These agreements serve not only to rectify the current issues but also to set a precedent for how similar incidents should be handled in the future.

As the conversation around campus civil rights continues, it is crucial for universities to engage in open dialogue with their communities, establish clear guidelines, and provide adequate resources to address and prevent discrimination. The actions taken by CUNY and the University of Michigan will be closely watched as indicators of the broader commitment to upholding civil rights in higher education.


Sources:

Probe finds Michigan, CUNY failed to protect Jewish, Muslim students - The Washington Post

Michigan, CUNY failed to protect Jewish students, Education Department investigation finds - JNS.org

CUNY and University of Michigan mishandled Gaza protests: Feds (usatoday.com)


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