Lessons from the Field: The U.S. Department of Education Holds Listening Session with Postsecondary Leaders on Supporting All Students During the Israel-Hamas Conflict

Every student deserves to feel safe at school. But the reality is that antisemitism, Islamophobia, and related forms of bias are rising – and our students can feel it. This is especially true following the October 7 Hamas attacks in Israel and subsequent Israel-Hamas conflict.

The U.S. Department of Education (Department) is utilizing every tool in our toolbox to make clear that hate has no place in America’s classrooms or college campuses. In May 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration announced efforts to address antisemitism through the first ever National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism. And in November 2023, the Administration launched the development of the first National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia. These initiatives have included listening sessions, site visits, the development of new resources, and more.

The Department is utilizing every tool in our toolbox to respond to the rise of incidents of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of discrimination and bias and highlighting what is working in this moment. Even as we continue our efforts to take aggressive action against discrimination, including harassment, hate and hate-motivated violence, many school leaders are grappling with increased tensions since the Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7 and the resulting conflict.

Promising Practices for Supporting All Students on College and University Campuses

On November 14, 2023, Undersecretary of Education James Kvaal and Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education Nasser Paydar, held a listening session with leaders of twelve colleges and universities to hear about strategies being implemented on campuses since October 7. Participants represented institutions from across the country, including public and private institutions, two-year and four-year colleges, and urban and rural schools. The institution leaders shared promising strategies for countering antisemitism and Islamophobia in higher education learning environments.

All the institutions shared concerns about the physical and emotional safety of students and faculty. Numerous promising strategies were shared during this listening session and others that institutions can learn from and adapt to their own campuses. A list of some of those strategies is included below.

  • Provide clear communications by and to multiple stakeholders on campus, starting from the institution’s leadership, and directed towards students, faculty, and parents.
  • Create a mechanism for daily crisis communication and collaboration between the institution’s leadership, including the president, academic affairs staff, student services staff, and security staff.
  • Create spaces for coming together as a full campus community and, importantly, create or preserve intentional spaces where smaller individual communities can safely come together to grieve.
  • Provide mental health resources, including in one-on-one and small group settings, and providing services anonymously if needed. Ensure counseling staff have cultural competencies to engage with Jewish, Arab, Muslim, and other impacted communities and ensure that students are aware of this expertise.
  • Educate students, faculty, and staff on antisemitism and Islamophobia, including through providing resources for faculty about how to address these topics; hosting in-person and virtual panel discussions for students, faculty and community members; and developing and disseminating educational resources for students and faculty.
  • Encourage students and faculty to exercise their free speech in a way that is safe, wise, authentic, and compassionate, and which ultimately seeks to create a community that is better for it.
  • Provide rapid, consistent, and compassionate responses to incidents. Develop strategies to build trust to incentivize reporting, including clear and accessible protocols, quick response by law enforcement and identification of culturally competent, community-specific points of contact in the police department. Track data for religiously motivated hate incidents occurring on campus.
  • When appropriate, devote financial resources to provide extra security for student group events. Consider how various communities may experience the presence of law enforcement, including campus safety officers, at events and on campus. Some students may draw comfort from their presence while others may have concerns. Work with each community to identify how to best fulfill their security needs.
  • Integrate efforts to promote inclusion of students of all religious, secular, and spiritual identities into other efforts to address equity and inclusion, including through consultation with faculty, campus ministry staff, and others with relevant expertise in these efforts.
  • Tap into existing relationship on and off campus, including both religious and secular partners, to provide support and implement response strategies.

Additional Resources to Address Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Related Forms of Discrimination and Bias

The Department’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Office for Civil Rights, and entire team are committed to providing all students with welcoming school environments, free of discrimination, bullying, and harassment. Since October 7, the Department has undertaken a series of actions to distribute resources, promote best practices, and to communicate that hate and discrimination will not be tolerated in our nation’s schools. Regular updates, including those additional resources, are available here.