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Department of Education investigating Harvard after complaint from Palestinian students, allies

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has opened a formal investigation into a civil rights complaint filed last week accusing Harvard of failure to protect Palestinian students and allies from targeted racism and harassment.

The complaint, filed by the Muslim Legal Fund on behalf of more than a dozen students, alleges the university failed to protect them “from harassment, intimidation and threats based solely on their status as Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and supporters of Palestinian rights,” according to a news release. It says the students have been subject to “doxxing, stalking and assault.”

“Students who reported the harassment to Harvard administrators received slow and ineffective responses and often met with closed doors, and in some cases threats to limit or retract their future academic opportunities,” the group said.

The school is also under investigation by the Education Department over claims of antisemitism on campus. That investigation was launched late last year.

In a statement Tuesday, the Muslim Legal Fund included an account from an unnamed Palestinian student who described harassment on campus as “shocking, terrifying and outrageous.”

“We have been chased, spat at, stalked and hounded by doxxing trucks on campus, and even at our families’ homes,” the fund quoted the student as saying. “On top of worrying about my family’s safety in Palestine, I’m living in fear of being attacked while walking to class.”

The group said students are asking that the Department of Education “do what Harvard refused to do” and truly investigate what has been happening to students and bring accountability so that no other student experiences racism and harassment.

Harvard University did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding the investigation. Last week, a university spokesperson did not comment on the complaint but directed NBC News to a list of resources it has provided students, including a newly launched presidential task force on combating Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias.

The list also included a link to a statement made by Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana on Oct. 12, denouncing antisemitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and discrimination.

The U.S. DOE’s Office of Civil Rights considers all complaints it receives but only opens formal complaints “where the allegations merit closer consideration,” the fund said in a statement.

The Office for Civil Rights did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Early this year, Claudine Gay resigned as president of Harvard after drawing fierce criticism for appearing to sidestep the question of whether calls for the genocide of Jews violate the school’s conduct rules during a December congressional hearing. l

Since Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7, the number of reports of harassment and discrimination have spiked at at U.S. schools, with some resulting in arrests.

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