Brown University to change discrimination policies following Department of Education investigation

The Ivy League school signed a resolution with the Department of Education after eliciting criticism for lack of action over complaints by Jewish students


Pro-Palestinian student protestors and activists rally at an encampment on the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, on 29 April, 2024. (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

An elite American university has said that it will change its policies towards Jewish students facing antisemitism after a federal investigation.

The civil rights investigation into reports of antisemitism at Brown University since Oct 7 concluded on Monday with investigators criticising a lack of action taken on behalf of Jewish students by the school’s administration during a period when antisemitism surged across campuses across America.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the US Department of Education announced on Monday that Brown has signed a resolution agreement to update its policies and procedures related to discrimination and harassment complaints after an investigation concluded that the university appears to have taken "no or little action in response” to over 75 reports of alleged antisemitic, anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim harassment against students between October 2023 and March 2024, according to a statement by the ORC.

The investigators’ criticism noted that the only action taken by the university in response to said complaints, which include allegations of serious harm, was to “acknowledge receipt of the reports, list support resources, and request to meet with the complainant, consistent with its policies then in effect.”

The investigation, one of dozens of Title IV cases opened by the ORC since October 7, commenced in response to a complaint alleging that the Ivy League University discriminated against students on the basis of their Jewish heritage when it failed to adequately respond to incidents of harassment in October and November 2023.

A letter from OCR attorney Paul Easton to Brown University President Christina Paxson, who is Jewish, detailed some of the complaints made to the university, including allegations that students pointed at a Jewish classmate’s Star of David jewelry and yelled “Zionist pig Jew;” students blocked a Jewish classmate from attending a pro-Palestinian rally; and violent threats were directed at the school’s Hillel leaders and Jewish students.

In a statement shared by Brown on Monday, the university denied having violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, adding that the initial complaint “had been filed by the editor of the Campus Reform online media outlet who has no affiliation with Brown or presence on its campus.”

However, the ORC allows even those without an affiliation with the university to file complaints.

During the investigation, the university revised its policies in response to the “campus climate that the University characterised as marked by anxiety, tension, and fear,” according to Easton.

The school agreed to continue efforts to conduct nondiscrimination training for members of the campus community and to begin conducting this annual training for all employees and students in the 2024-25 academic year, according to Brown’s statement.

The school has also since created the Office of Equity Compliance and Reporting and employees responsible for investigating complaints of discrimination and harassment will continue to receive annual investigator training.

“The University is satisfied that the voluntary resolution with OCR enforces and reaffirms Brown’s commitment to strengthening our policies, systems and operations to ensure a campus environment where students, faculty and staff are safe and supported,” said Russell C. Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy, and interim vice president for campus life, who signed the agreement on behalf of Brown.

Despite the criticisms put forth by investigators, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Cather E. Lhamon commended Brown for “assessing its own campus climate and undertaking responsive reforms to comply with Title VI, in addition to the terms it agrees today to undertake in response to OCR’s investigation.”

“OCR looks forward to work with the university to ensure a nondiscriminatory learning environment for its Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, and Palestinian students and students of all other backgrounds,” Lhamon said.

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