Skip to main content


Students file civil rights lawsuit against American University for ignoring antisemitism, Nazi vandalism

The lawsuit says there has been unequal treatment for Jewish students when they complain versus Muslim students, and that when reports of Islamophobia occurred, the university acted

U.S. Dept. of Education in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Dept. of Education in Washington, D.C. | Shutterstock

January 19, 2024 9:14am

Updated: January 19, 2024 9:49am

A group of Jewish students in the Washington, D.C. area have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against American University for its inaction after the school was vandalized with swastikas and pro-Nazi propaganda, and for retaliating against those who reported the incidents.  

The federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday with the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights by a student movement called “Jewish on Campus” with the help of The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which allege that American was a “pervasive and hostile environment” for Jewish students.

The complaint also accuses the school of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of color, race and national origin in academic institutions that receive federal funding.

Jewish students and law enforcement officials have raised concerns throughout the country about the safety of Jewish students, many of whom have been teased and harassed since the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Vandals desecrated a bathroom inside a dorm at American University in September 2022 with antisemitic propaganda, according to a letter sent by Vice President of Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence Fanta Aw.

A second Oct. 19 incident of vandalism was referenced in the lawsuit about a dormitory that was vandalized with Nazi slogans and swastikas.

That event was documented in another letter from University President Sylvia Burwell.

Jewish students live in the dorms whose doors were vandalized, suggesting the vandalism was done as part of an act of hate-based harassment and intimidation.

The plaintiffs also alleged that one student from Israel had been spit on several times and that someone wrote “Hitler was right” on a flyer for his piano recital.

Despite this, the university took a week to criticize the vandals and no other investigations took place pursue any suspects.

While AU Jewish students have endured antisemitism on campus, they claim the university has “harassed student whistleblowers.”

Students who captured video of other students tearing down posters of Israeli hostages were met with hostility and reprimanded with disciplinary hearings instead of university officials investigating the acts depicted in the video footage.

The complaint also alleges some Jewish students have been harassed in classrooms.

AU purportedly allowed protests on campus on Nov. 9 in support of Palestine where students marched inside university buildings and used megaphones to disrupt classes without consequence.

The lawsuit says there has been unequal treatment for Jewish students when they complain versus Muslim students, and that when reports of Islamophobia occurred, the university acted.

“Shamefully, AU has repeatedly chosen to turn a blind eye to the antisemitism snowballing on its campus, “ said Brandeis Center chairman and founder Kenneth Marcus in a news release. “Not only has the university failed in its legal obligation to protect Jewish students from illegal targeting and harassment, it is attempting to bully those brave enough to speak up.”

As such, the lawsuit demands relief in the form of compensating students for damages and appointing an independent investigator to probe antisemitism and its effect on students at AU.

American University’s Vice President of Communications Matt Bennett sent a statement to WTOP, a news network in the area that claimed they had not received any complaints from the Office of Civil Rights, adding the school would cooperate with any future inquiries to “combat antisemitism.”

Last week, several students filed a lawsuit against Harvard University for becoming “a bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.”

American University was founded in 1893 and has an endowment of an estimated $908 million. It is considered one of the top schools in the Washington area and admission there is sought after by those interested in a future career in politics or in the nation’s capital.

The university also owns WAMU, National Public Radio’s flagship capital affiliate.