Ellie Park, Photography Editor

On Jan. 22, the United States Department of Education opened a Title VI Shared Ancestry investigation into Yale. The inquiry relates to a Nov. 6 panel event titled “Gaza under siege,” at which two students alleged that they were excluded on the basis of being Jewish and stems from a Dec. 5 complaint filed by the Defense of Freedom Institute for Policy Studies, or DFI. 

The complaint alleges that “several Jewish students” were barred from entering the event even though some attendees left before the conclusion of the panel. The complaint specifically names two students — Sahar Tartak ’26 and Netanel Crispe ’25 — who penned an opinion column titled “Jewish Students Meet Hostility at Yale” in the Wall Street Journal the following day.

“Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, no educational program or activity that receives federal financial assistance may discriminate against students on the basis of shared ancestry or national origin,” Robert Eitel, DFI president and co-founder, wrote to the News. “It appears that such a program hosted by the university barred certain Yale students from attending simply because they were Jewish. We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is looking into this matter and hope that the investigation will prevent this kind of occurrence from happening again.”

The DFI introduces itself in the complaint as an “interested third-party organization” and nonprofit devoted to “advancing freedom” and safeguarding “civil and constitutional rights” in school and workplace settings.

When the News first inquired about the investigation, a University spokesperson wrote that Yale had received a letter from the Department of Education asking for information related to how it responded to alleged discrimination complaints about one on-campus event.

“We take student concerns seriously.  We carefully evaluate each complaint under our policies and the law, and determine whether or not allegations are supported by the facts” the University spokesperson wrote to the News. “In recent months, Yale’s leaders, faculty, and staff have worked diligently to support our students; to apply our policies in a manner that is fair, compassionate and supports the educational environment; and to treat each student with the care and respect we would expect for ourselves.”

The November discussion was moderated by Erica Edwards, an English and African American studies professor, and Lisa Lowe, a professor of American Studies and ethnicity, race and migration. The event also featured anthropology professors Nadia Abu El-Haj of Barnard College and Amahl Bishara of Tufts University, who is also a professor of studies in race, colonialism and diaspora.

A Nov. 8 Yale statement about the event — to which the December DFI complaint also refers — said that “students and other community members of all backgrounds” were able to attend the event.

“There was strong interest in the panel held on Nov. 6, and the room reached capacity before it began,” the statement reads. “A few students were not aware that organizers had required pre-registration, and even some students who had pre-registered were unable to enter due to space constraints. As a result, a small number of people listened from the hallway; because the speakers wore microphones, the discussion was audible outside the room.”

Tartak and Crispe, the two students who wrote the op-ed and the complaint, allege that the event marketing material did not specify that registration was required for the event. But the event announcement on the Yale Ethnography Hub site includes a link to a form that allowed students to pre-register for the event.

Tartak declined to comment for this article, and Crispe did not respond to two emails from the News.

Both the op-ed and complaint also alleged that the event coordinators “selectively enforced the registration requirement” and allowed entry to “several non-Jewish, non-registered guests.”

The complaint, however, says that the incident surrounding the panel is reflective of “a worrisome trend.”

“Antisemitic discrimination at colleges and universities has risen over the past decade,” the complaint reads. “To date, the university has not issued an announcement concerning how it intends to take any disciplinary actions against the faculty members and students responsible for planning the event and excluding Jewish students.”

The November panel was co-sponsored by the American Studies, Anthropology and Religious Studies departments; the programs in Ethnicity, Race and Migration and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Center for Middle East Studies, the Black Feminist Collective, the Ethnography Hub, the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Memorial Fund and Yalies4Palestine. 

The University and the Department of Education declined to comment for this article. Lowe, Edwards, Abu El-Haj and Bishara did not respond to requests for comment. The News reached out to all chairs involved in leadership for the departments and programs that co-hosted the event. Only one — Chair of the Program in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Roderick Ferguson — responded.

Ferguson, who attended the panel and read his notes from the event to the News, described the Nov. 6 panel as “a very pedagogical and informative event.”

He also said that attendees, including himself, had to pre-register for the event and that the DFI complaint’s claim of “excluding Jewish students” seems to have “no basis in reality.” Ferguson added that he sat next to a Jewish colleague for the panel.

“As someone who’s been in the academy for [almost] my 30th year, I’ve been to a lot of panels; I did not hear incitement,” Ferguson said. “The normal function of the university is that it makes intellectual objects and that panel tried to produce the war as an intellectual object … that is what universities do, and if we can’t do that, we cease to be universities”

Following the panel in November, managing director of Yale Alumni Fund and director of leadership Jocelyn Kane wrote in a Nov. 9 email to alumni fundraising coordinators that the Alumni Fund had heard from a “growing number of alumni expressing their concerns about the November 6 panel discussion.”

Nick Gaede Jr. ’61 publicly pulled his donation from Yale following the op-ed written by Tartak and Crispe. Gaede announced his decision in a list of three letters published in the Journal on Nov. 12. 

“I assumed that whatever comes out of [the investigation] is going to have ramifications related to free speech,” Gaede told the News. “We’ve got to have free speech but within reason.”

As of Thursday night, there are 113 open Title VI Shared Ancestry investigations listed on the Department of Education site that are rooted in a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits recipients of federal funds from discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. According to recent reporting from the New York Times, “several recent” Title VI investigations allege antisemitism on college campuses. An investigation opened into Harvard on Feb. 6 follows a complaint from a group of students alleging that the university failed to protect Muslim, Palestinian and Arab students — and their supporters — from harassment and intimidation.

Although Title VI does not explicitly protect individuals from religious discrimination, subsequent executive orders have clarified the language of the law to incorporate specific forms of religious discrimination. Former U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that expanded Title VI, including the prohibition of “discrimination rooted in anti-Semitism,” in 2019. In September, the Biden administration clarified this language to make clear that Title VI also prohibits Islamophobia.

The “Gaza under siege” panel was held in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, which is located at 63 High St. 

Benjamin Hernandez covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously reported on international affairs at Yale. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he is a sophomore in Trumbull College majoring in Global Affairs.