Investigation launched into UW discrimination as growing list of colleges face same probe

SEATTLE — Claims of discrimination against the University of Washington have prompted an investigation by the Department of Education (DOE).

It’s just one of a growing list of colleges facing a federal discrimination probe since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7.

The Education Department didn’t share what kind of discrimination prompted this investigation into UW.

The department confirmed it is part of a nationwide effort to address the rise in reports of antisemitism, islamophobia, and other discriminations on college campuses.

“It could protect students from being punished for being of a certain race or national origin,” said Seattle Trial Lawyer Jesse Wing.

Wing is explaining Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits entities receiving federal funding (like public schools) from discriminating against race and national origin. It also includes harassment based on a person’s shared ancestry.

The DOE responded to KIRO 7 in a statement:

“Please see the Office for Civil Rights’ list of pending Title VI Shared Ancestry investigations here. The list is updated weekly. For context, please see OCR’s Nov. 16 release, U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Announces List of Open Title VI Shared Ancestry Investigations of Institutions of Higher Education and K-12 Schools. Lastly, on background attributed to an Education Department spokesperson: ‘The Department does not comment further on pending investigations. For more information about how OCR processes investigations, please see OCR’s Case Processing Manual.’”

Title VI is the basis of the DOE’s investigations into several colleges nationwide.

“You might have people who are disagreeing with each other. And if the university takes one side over the other, it runs the risk of running afoul of Title Seven, by punishing certain students and excusing racism by other students,” said Wing.

As of Thursday, 29 of those investigations were opened after October 7th when the Israel-Hamas war started.

The University of Washington became one of the most recent names on that list.

UW responded to KIRO 7 in a statement:

“The UW is committed to the safety and security of all students, faculty, and staff, and the UW takes all investigations seriously. We will fully cooperate and provide the information necessary to resolve this matter.”

Wing explains the schools walk a very fine line, between Title VI and the First Amendment, with freedom of speech and to protest.

“What’s happening in colleges is recapitulating what’s happening in society in general. And these are very, very challenging rights to balance against each other in universities that have a very tough job to do. But it’s their job. They’re leading the way they should be leaders in this area, not followers,’ said Wing.

There are several repercussions schools could face if they are found in violation of Title VI.

“So more likely, they would be fined, or the government could require them to make changes to receive federal funding,” Wing added. “And of course, the university could also be sued by those who believe that they had their rights deprived. So that’s always a risk for the university as well.”