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A stack of four wooden blocks with the words “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” against an orange background.

Dzmitry Dzemidovich/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Since Oct. 7, the party that sympathized with Charlottesville’s tiki torch–carrying Nazi wannabes has been whipping up hysteria about antisemitism on campus. The strategy was never hidden: weaponize legitimate anxieties to discredit higher education and to erode civil rights—two long-standing right-wing objectives. Recent events make the gap between GOP talking points and GOP policies impossible to ignore. House Republicans keep demanding “colleges & universities … step up and protect [Jewish] students from discrimination.” Yet the party’s nationwide assault on diversity, equity and inclusion has crippled universities’ capacity to do just that.

In June, the U.S. Department of Education closed an investigation concerning complaints of antisemitism at the University of Michigan. The department faulted Michigan for failing both to assess whether known incidents created a hostile climate and to “take steps reasonably calculated to end the hostile environment, remedy its effects, and prevent its recurrence.” Michigan has agreed to multiple changes that should enhance its ability to prevent and remedy any hostile climate for Jewish students and others. This includes a more centralized process for investigating complaints, better antiharassment training for students and faculty, and a climate assessment. If the goal is a system more responsive to harassment and discrimination, these are sensible steps.

But if the GOP gets what it wants, it will become more difficult—if not illegal—for universities to do what Michigan just agreed to do. Across the country, Republican officials are pushing “anti-DEI” laws designed to dismantle the programs and personnel tasked with safeguarding students’ civil rights. That’s a recipe for more antisemitism on campus, not less.

In states like Florida and Texas, anti-DEI laws precipitated abrupt office closures and personnel purges. In Florida, officials eliminated the University of Florida’s “chief diversity officer position, scrapping the program’s staff jobs and halting any contracts involving the subject.” In Texas, the state’s GOP leadership banned, with minor exceptions, universities from hiring or assigning any employee or third party “to perform the duties of a diversity, equity and inclusion office.” The law prompted university leaders to close 21 offices, eliminate 311 positions and cut roughly 680 contracts, programs and trainings.

Gutting DEI makes sense if you want to hamstring institutions from cultivating a campus free from bias and harassment—including antisemitism. Consider Michigan, which the federal government faulted for lacking a centralized process for handling and assessing complaints—the precise function a chief diversity officer and DEI office are often well positioned to provide.

Texas’s anti-DEI law also bans mandatory trainings “designed or implemented in reference to race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” On its face, this might not appear to implicate trainings on antisemitism. But as a legal matter, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects Jewish students (as it does Palestinian students) because those groups are understood in terms of ethnicity and shared ancestry. So while it might not be obvious, Texas’s anti-DEI law creates a barrier for antisemitism programming—just as it does for programs “designed or implemented in reference to” anti-Asian racism, anti-Black bias or anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

U.S. House and Senate Republicans want to nationalize Florida and Texas’s assaults on student civil rights. Consider U.S. Senator J. D. Vance’s Dismantle DEI Act, which would directly undermine Michigan’s ability to execute its new commitments. The bill prohibits using federal funds to maintain a DEI office or a chief diversity officer, or to “develop, implement, distribute, publish, or purchase a training course” on DEI-related topics, including courses that assert that certain groups are “systemically … oppressed … or unprivileged.” As in Florida and Texas, the apparent aim is to discredit and deny students access to concepts like structural racism, white supremacy and male privilege. But the bill isn’t so limited. Think Michigan should expose students and staff to the systemic barriers and biases Jewish people face? Not if J. D. Vance dismantles DEI.

The Dismantle DEI Act would also prohibit accreditors from encouraging “any institution of higher education to engage in prohibited diversity, equity and inclusion practices” or from “assess[ing] the commitment of an institution of higher education to any ideology, belief, or viewpoint.” Tracking other conservative efforts, this language appears to target entities like the American Bar Association that mandate law schools “demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to diversity and inclusion by providing full opportunities for the study of law and entry into the profession by members of underrepresented groups.” If Senate Republicans make the rules, this would be unlawful. As would any accreditor policy that incentivizes universities to combat antisemitism and other forms of bias. Why? Because anti-antisemitism, like antiracism and gender equity, is an “ideology, belief, or viewpoint.”

As one final example, consider Project 2025, the right-wing playbook for remaking the federal government if Trump wins in November. The drafters urge the next administration to declare that “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act does not include a disparate impact standard.” Conservatives have long disparaged disparate impact theories of discrimination, which require institutions to justify facially neutral policies that disproportionately harm an identifiable group. Some have even characterized as antisemitic now-common critiques of “merit” that take issue with standardized tests and other admissions policies that disparately exclude students of color.

Project 2025’s hostility to disparate impact follows a decades-long conservative campaign to redefine discrimination in narrow terms that require an identifiable perpetrator and intentional discriminatory treatment. That campaign also received a boost late last month when the Supreme Court, in Loper v. Raimondo, empowered federal judges to cripple the Department of Education’s ability to realize the full promise of civil rights statutes like Title VI and Title IX. Under a narrow intent-based theory of discrimination, a university’s failure—its inaction—to counter harassing speech or conduct would not violate Title VI. In such a world, Michigan never enters into a resolution agreement. Why not? Because when it comes to antisemitism, Title VI would only prohibit universities from intentionally discriminating against Jewish students. Universities would have no affirmative duty, as they presently do, to remedy a hostile environment created by someone else—even if everyone agreed that the offending speech had no academic value and was nakedly racist, antisemitic or anti-Palestinian.

The GOP might like talking about antisemitism. But its crusade against DEI compromises every student’s civil rights—Jewish students included.

Jonathan Feingold is an associate professor at Boston University School of Law. He is an expert in affirmative action, antidiscrimination law, education law and critical race theory.

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