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Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona’s Remarks at the Leading Safe, Inclusive, and Non-Discriminatory Learning Environments Webinar (Higher Education Session)

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Good afternoon, and thank you to all of you who are joining the higher education portion of our webinar on Leading Safe, Inclusive, and Non-discriminatory Learning Environments in the midst of the Israel-Hamas war.

The pattern of hate and discrimination and threats of violence we’ve seen in our nation since the October 7th attack in Israel by Hamas has been appalling and horrifying. And it calls for strong action from all of us. That’s especially true on our college and university campuses.

Last month, I had a chance to listen to Jewish students at Towson University in Maryland. Some told me they felt isolated on campus. Others live in fear of threats to them in person or on social media.

Still others talked about the horrifying antisemitic incidents they’d seen or heard about – and how they felt when responses to those incidents seemed passive or neutral. It was alarming for me to hear from them that acts of antisemitism has been normalized in this country.

I also heard from national Muslim, Arab, and Sikh organization leaders about the deeply alarming rise in reports of anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti-Sikh discrimination and hate we’re also seeing.

They brought an acute awareness over many years of hate and discrimination students who are, or are perceived to be, Muslim, Arab or Palestinian have endured. I was devastated to hear of the recent shooting in Vermont of three college students of Palestinian descent, two of whom are American citizens, who were visiting family. It reminds me of how terrible the anti-Arab and Muslim discrimination was in the early 2000s. We cannot go back to that. As President Biden said, “there is absolutely no place for violence or hate in America. Period. No person should worry about being shot at while going about their daily lives.”

Let’s be clear: antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and other forms of discrimination or hate in any form have no place in our schools and communities.

We must be direct and unapologetic in condemning hate on our college campuses and ensuring student safety is our highest priority.

We must do that while also embracing one of the great things about higher education in America and what makes us the envy worldwide. Our college campuses can reflect the beautiful diversity of our nation – and make it possible for students from different places and different backgrounds to celebrate who they are and engage in meaningful debate.

Our challenge is to encourage students and faculty to exercise their free speech in a way that is safe, authentic, and compassionate – and ultimately seeks to create a community that is better for it.

We honor the fact that schools and campuses are places for robust exchange of diverse views and constructive debate, but what we can’t, and won’t tolerate, is hate, discrimination, and threats of violence that leave students feeling unsafe because of who they are or who they’re perceived to be.

But we’re not here to just talk, but to offer support for college and university leaders who have admitted to me in recent conversations that this is one of the most difficult times to lead.

Today’s session will be a balance of sharing civil rights laws, resources, and examples that we can learn from. It’s our response to what we hear from you. You want to do what’s right, and resources would help.

Several Education Department and school leaders are here to highlight very concrete actions and resources that can help you ensure your higher education communities are safe, inclusive, and non-discriminatory.

So, it’s my pleasure to introduce Catherine Lhamon, our Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office for Civil Rights, or OCR.

OCR recently released a Dear Colleague letter reminding schools and institutions of higher education of their legal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide all students, including students who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian, a school environment free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. Catherine, over to you for more on this

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