US Department of Education Investigates Whitman College for Discrimination; What We Know So Far


In a recent development, Whitman College finds itself under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for possible "discrimination involving shared ancestry."

The investigation, part of the Title VI investigations listed on the department's website, raises questions about the nature of the alleged discrimination and its implications for the college.

US Department of Education Investigates Whitman College for Discrimination; What We Know So Far
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Cooperation from Whitman College

Whitman College spokesperson Gina Zandy Ohnstad confirmed the ongoing investigation, stating that the college is fully cooperating with the Office of Civil Rights. Ohnstad assured that the school officials are providing the necessary information and learning about the reported incidents. However, she emphasized that the opening of the investigation does not imply any finding of responsibility on the part of the college.

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Title VI Investigation

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. The U.S. Department of Justice defines the scope of Title VI, making it clear that institutions, from elementary school districts to colleges and universities, must adhere to these anti-discrimination regulations.

As of now, the specific details of the complaint against Whitman College remain undisclosed. The lack of information leaves room for speculation, but it is important to note that the initiation of an investigation does not necessarily imply guilt. The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights conducts these investigations based on complaints of discrimination and lists them on its website.

West Coast Schools Under Scrutiny

Whitman College is not the only institution facing Title VI investigations. The list on the department's website includes several other West Coast schools, such as the University of Washington, the University of California - Los Angeles, and Stanford University. The investigations, though not explicitly linked, suggest a broader examination of potential discrimination in educational institutions on the West Coast.

Notably, a significant number of investigations listed on the website began after the outbreak of violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip on October 7, 2016. The timing raises questions about whether geopolitical events have influenced the spike in complaints and subsequent investigations.

The Department of Education's investigations align with a broader nationwide effort to address discrimination in educational settings. Recently, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona emphasized that the administration is commited to protecting students from any hatred and discrimination based on their ethnicity or shared ancestry.

Whitman College's Recent Activism

The investigation comes in the wake of activism at Whitman College related to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Students for Justice in Palestine and the regional Party for Socialism and Liberation led a campus march, showing solidarity with Palestinian victims and advocating for the cessation of U.S. aid to Israel. Subsequently, a group of students demanded an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees to vote on divesting from companies supporting Israel.

In response to concerns raised on campus, Whitman College President Sarah Bolton issued a letter on November 28, addressing the impact of recent events on the well-being of Jewish members of the community. Bolton condemned antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bias and discrimination, emphasizing their incompatibility with the college's values.

While the investigation is ongoing, Whitman College remains committed to combating antisemitism and bias. According to Zandy Ohnstad, if the Department of Education's investigation reveals ways the college can better address discrimination, officials will be open to implementing those insights.

As the investigation unfolds, the college community and the public await more information on the specific nature of the allegations and the potential implications for Whitman College's policies and practices.

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