The Office for Civil Rights Declines to Investigate Harvard’s Racial Discrimination
The US. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has declined to investigate a complaint against Harvard Medical School (HMS), despite clear evidence of racial discrimination.
In 2021, HMS introduced the Black Staff Caucus (BSC) at its Longwood campus to address “the national discourse on racial injustice.” Black staff members at HMS are invited to participate this affinity group, described as “a safe space where Black Staff in the Longwood Medical Area” can collaborate. The Longwood Campus in Boston is the home of Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Wyss Institute.
Laura Morgan, Do No Harm’s program manager, filed a federal civil rights complaint against HMS regarding the BCS in February 2023. The complaint asked the OCR to investigate the university for illegal race-based segregation and racial discrimination in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
However, instead of investigating the discrimination complaint OCR referred the case to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), citing the complaint as an allegation of “employment discrimination” covered by Title VII (not Title VI) and notified HMS of the referral. OCR could have reviewed the complaint and either requested more information, opened a formal investigation, or dismissed the case outright if the review found no evidence of discrimination. A referral to EEOC is a departure from standard operating procedure.
“In the last year OCR agreed to evaluate eight different Title VI complaints against universities sponsoring segregated race-based affinity groups for faculty and it opened three of those complaints for federal investigations,” said Mark Perry, senior fellow at Do No Harm. One of those federal civil rights investigations was for race-based affinity group sessions for students and employees at Harvard’s T.H. Cham School of Public Health. After the school agreed to discontinue the racially segregated sessions, OCR closed the investigation.
Under Title VII, complaints to EEOC generally require a complainant with legal standing, i.e., a Harvard employee who claims he or she was personally discriminated against on the basis of race. “Referrals to EEOC is a recent departure from OCR’s past practices,” Perry stated, “and might be a strategy to derail a valid complaint.” The Black Staff Caucus is still an active affinity group at HMS, and recently affirmed that its purpose is “to provide a new model of engagement for Black staff members.” BSC members are expected to “promote the values of diversity and inclusion” and “support and uphold” the Harvard Medical School Diversity Statement. The BSC sponsors three “signature programs,” including “equity and social justice.”
- The Career Advancement and Mentoring Subcommittee addresses “the critical need to bridge the diversity gap in leadership roles” in alignment with Harvard’s “commitment to advancing diversity, inclusion, and belonging.” Among the Diversity and Inclusion Resources is a January 2023 article that claims “taking a stand around social justice is necessary to recruitment, retention, and even the viability of your brand.”
- The Cultural Programming & Member Engagement subcommittee provides “safe and affirming spaces” for “Black staff” and “others from the African Diaspora.” (Archived link here.)
- The Equity and Social Justice subcommittee’s purpose is to “advance social justice issued internally and externally by providing tools to elicit action.” The group states that Harvard Longwood Campus employees “often deal with challenges based on perceptions of race and/or ethnicity” that manifest as “micro-aggressions or implicit/overt bias.”
Campus affinity groups that segregate faculty, students or staff based on race are examples of racial discrimination under Title VI that the Office for Civil Rights has investigated in the recent past. Why is Harvard apparently getting a pass for its Black Staff Caucus?
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