The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is launching an investigation into George Washington University (GWU) due to allegations of antisemitism from one of the school’s professors, according to StandWithUs (SWU), an antisemitism watchdog organization.
GWU professor Lara Sheehi was the subject of a complaint filed by SWU in December 2022 on behalf of Jewish students who claimed that Sheehi had allowed and encouraged antisemitism in her classroom, reportedly telling one student that “it’s not your fault you were born in Israel.” Sheehi adamantly denied the accusations and the school later backed her, announcing that it had “no evidence” to substantiate the students’ concerns, but that did not deter the OCR from launching its independent investigation, according to SWU.
SWU announced on Twitter Tuesday that the department had informed the organization that it would be “opening a full investigation” into the Title VI complaint.
#BREAKING: Office for Civil Rights (#OCR) has informed StandWithUs that it is opening a full investigation into our Title VI complaint based on #antisemitic discrimination and retaliation against Jewish students at George Washington University. (1/2) #GWUhttps://t.co/e48DBKSEL3
— StandWithUs (@StandWithUs) April 4, 2023
SWU’s complaint claimed that Jewish students in Sheehi’s psychology class were “singled out for repeated and persistent harassment” and invited a speaker to discuss the Israel-Palestine conflict who argued that Israel used Palestinian children to test weapons of war. Additionally, after Jewish students took their concerns to the university, Sheehi reportedly accused the students of calling her guest speaker a “terrorist,” resulting in the university informing the students that they may be subject to disciplinary action.
On March 27, GWU said that it had concluded its investigation into the complaints made by Jewish students and found nothing to substantiate their concerns. SWU condemned the university’s conclusion and reiterated its call for the DOE to launch an independent investigation.
Roz Rothstein, CEO of SWU, said in a prepared statement she was “pleased” by the OCR’s decision and that the department’s announcement proved that universities and their staff do not have the right to “subject students to discriminatory conduct.”
Yael Lerman, director of the SWU’s Saidoff Legal Department echoed Rothstein in a prepared statement, saying that he was glad the department was sending a “clear message.”
“We thank OCR for opening a full investigation into our complaint against GW and sending the clear message that whatever the bounds of academic freedom may be, they do not extend to professors mistreating and retaliating against students based on their Jewish and Israeli identities under the guise of political expression,” Lerman said.
A GWU spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the university had received a “request for information” from the OCR and will “fully participate in the department’s inquiry.”
Sheehi’s representatives from the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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