Muslim Advocates, CUNY Students File Federal Civil Rights Complaint About Anti-Palestinian Racism

APRIL 16, 2024

Issue: Palestinian Solidarity

Muslim Advocates, CUNY Students File Federal Civil Rights Complaint About Anti-Palestinian Racism

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On Tuesday, Muslim Advocates filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) on behalf of students of the City University of New York School of Law (CUNY Law). The complaint asserts that throughout this academic year CUNY Law administration has targeted student advocacy for Palestinian freedom and refused to protect students from anti-Palestinian racism and related harassment, doxxing, and intimidation on campus. It urges OCR to investigate and intervene under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI). 

The complaint alleges an ongoing pattern and practice of anti-Palestinian racism reflected in: repeated and selective removal of student fliers supporting Palestinian lives and liberation, heightened surveillance and introduction of NYPD officers inside and outside the school because of activism in support of Palestinian freedom and the last-minute cancellation—based on questionable “safety” concerns—of a campus event about Palestine that was going to be hosted by the Muslim Law Students Association. 

“I came to CUNY Law because of its commitment to social justice. Instead of supporting our demands for social justice, the administration is cracking down on political expression in support of Palestinian life and liberation,” said Parima Kadikar, a second-year student at CUNY Law and member of CUNY Law Students for Justice in Palestine. “We have the right to speak out about the Israeli government’s massacre of over 33,000 Palestinians and its systematic destruction of every university in Gaza—atrocities that should move any student, educator, and institution of higher learning to action.”

The complaint also asserts that anti-Palestinian racism drove the termination of CUNY Law’s custom of having a student speaker at graduation—as a reaction against the vibrant and ongoing activism on campus this year in support of Palestinian lives and against the references to the struggle for Palestinian freedom made by the student speakers of the two prior years, who are Arab, Muslim women. 

Sajia Hanif, a third-year student at CUNY Law, said “Having a student commencement speaker is a tradition, and student speakers highlight social justice issues, given our law school’s mission. It’s very disturbing for us to be denied that tradition because our school is afraid the tradition will again be used to speak out for Palestinian people, against whom the Israeli government is inflicting famine and genocide.”

The complaint further alleges that CUNY Law administrators this year refused to take any action when the right-wing attack group Accuracy in Media brought its infamous doxxing truck to CUNY Law and its affiliates verbally and physically harassed students. “It’s reprehensible that our law school is both ignoring our calls to acknowledge genocide by the Israeli government and discriminating against us because of our advocacy for Palestinian life,” said Lena Ghrama, a second-year student at CUNY Law and co-president of the Muslim Law Students Association. “Instead of offering any meaningful action about doxxing trucks and outside groups physically assaulting and harassing us, CUNY Law has canceled Muslim and Palestinian events, using Islamophobic and racist dog whistles about safety.”

“Title VI is supposed to protect students’ rights to equal treatment and a safe place to learn. We call upon OCR to investigate the learning environment at CUNY Law and ensure accountability for any and all failures to protect students from anti-Palestinian racism and harassment,” said Reem Subei, Senior Staff Attorney at Muslim Advocates.

This Title VI complaint against CUNY Law follows on the heels of Title VI complaints filed against Hunter College and Queens College that students facing anti-Palestinian racism on those CUNY campuses filed independently on April 9, 2024. Collectively, the three complaints contend that CUNY has responded to on-campus activism in support of Palestinian lives with discrimination and dehumanization spanning censorship and repression of student political speech, the cancellation of events, surveillance, bringing law enforcement onto campus, and ignoring doxxing and harassment by third parties.     

These complaints reflect broader national patterns of anti-Palestinian racism and McCarthyite repression that target advocates for Palestinian freedom and of increasing violence and harassment against people who hold, are perceived to hold, or who are associated or affiliated  with Palestinian identity.


Muslim Advocates is a national social-justice, legal-advocacy, and educational organization that works with and for Muslim and other historically marginalized communities to build community power, fight systemic oppression, and demand shared well-being.