Carnegie Mellon University Accused of Tolerating Discrimination, Antisemitism, and Harassment

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The lawsuit claims that Carnegie Mellon administrators failed to take action after an architecture professor used a student’s project, which incorporated Orthodox Jewish elements into its design, as an excuse to launch into an anti-Israel tirade and disseminate purportedly antisemitic propaganda.

A recently-filed lawsuit accuses Carnegie Mellon University and its administrators of turning a blind eye to antisemitism, and—in some cases—actively enabling discrimination against Jewish students.

According to CBS News, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Yael Canaan, a student who attended the Pittsburgh-based university’s School of Architecture between 2018 and 2023. It accuses Carnegie Mellon of creating a hostile environment by tolerating harassment and bigotry, citing several examples of seemingly discriminatory actions.

One example cited in the lawsuit asserts that, when Canaan asked for a homework extension to attend an on-campus memorial for Tree of Life synagogue shooting victims in 2018, her request was denied without explanation.

The attack—which took place a five-minute drive from Carnegie Mellon campus—left  11 people dead and another six injured, excluding the perpetrator. Law enforcement quickly identified antisemitic hate as a motivating factor.

Canaan has since said that professors’ consistent refusals to accommodate her religious beliefs resulted in physical symptoms, “requiring doctor’s visits, debilitating and nausea-inducing migraines, depression, isolationism, and anxiety, and treatment, including medications.”

In contrast to similar discrimination lawsuits now being filed against other large universities, Canaan’s complaint makes an unusual and potentially contentious allegation: that Carnegie Mellon’s purportedly discriminatory misconduct could be related to “outsized” donations it has received from Qatar, which amount to nearly $600 million.

“Yael deserves to have her civil rights protected. The school needs to be held accountable for not just tolerating and allowing a discriminatory environment, but for the retaliation she received after the fact,” Lawfare Project executive director Brooke Goldstein told FOX News. “We want to create real systemic change within this university system.”

Expanding in this alleged retaliation, the lawsuit indicates that Mary-Lou Arscott–associate head for design fundamentals at the Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture–repeatedly harassed Canaan, making overtly discriminatory remarks and sending her violently antisemitic materials.

In one incident, Canaan says that she created a project exploring the conversion of public space into private space, for which she integrated elements of an eruv.

An eruv, a small boundary typically made of fishing wire, symbolically extends the boundaries of some Jewish households into public areas. By creating an extension of the home within the broader community, the eruv facilitates engagement in activities that would otherwise be forbidden in public on the Sabbath. The eruv is a common sight in many predominately Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, both in the United States and in Israel.

However, Arscott apparently took Canaan’s use of Jewish motifs as an opportunity to make politically-charged and potentially antisemitic comments about Israeli policy.

“In response to questioning, Canaan began explaining the concept of an eruv to Arscott, but Arscott cut her off,” the lawsuit claims. “Arscott said—completely out of the blue—that the wall in the model looked like the wall Israelis use to barricade Palestinians out of Israel.”

A gavel. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user: Brian Turner. (CCA-BY-2.0).

“This shocked Canaan, who then tried to regain her composure and finish her presentation,” the lawsuit says. “But when Canaan finished, Arscott said only that Canaan’s time would have been better spent had she instead explored ‘what Jews do to make themselves such a hated group.’”

Canaan claims that she reported Arscott’s comments to school administrators, but that no concrete action was ever taken. Eventually, when the school proposed a Zoom call between Arscott and Canaan, the professor “refused to apologize and expressed no remorse for her conduct.”

“She stated only, ‘I’m sorry you felt that way,’” the lawsuit says. “Canaan realized that the [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office] had done nothing to ‘facilitate’ or prepare Arscott in any way, or even to inform Arscott about what Canaan had reported.”

Shortly after the meeting had concluded, Arscott allegedly “escalated” the situation by emailing Canaan a link to an “anti-Jewish, anti-Israel” blog called The Funambulist, which Arscott described in the message as offering an “insightful […] perspective.”

However, Canaan’s attorneys describe the Funambulist as a website that regularly publishes antisemitic articles, as well as pictures showing “terrorist organizations” throwing Molotov cocktails and other explosive devices as Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Camaan says that she was later turned away by the school’s Titel IX office, which “aggressively discouraged Canaan from filing a formal complaint.”

Speaking to FOX, Goldstein said that instances of apparent antisemitism at Carnegie Mellon and other high-ranking American universities warrant intensive and critical investigation.

“We can see that there is hatred and radicalization happening on our campuses,” Goldstein said, presumably referring to recent pro-Palestine events that have, at times, incorporated overtly antisemitic perspectives and virulently antisemitic guest speakers. “And the question is why? What role does foreign funding play? Why is that being tolerated?”

“The Jewish community is a minority community with the oldest, most persecuted minority community in human history,” she said. “And now it is crucial that in the age of minority right movements, Jew hatred is shunned.”

“It’s time for the Jewish community once and for all to be given parity,” Goldstein added.

Canaan’s lawsuit seeks a jury trial, punitive damages, and other monetary compensation.

A spokesperson for Carnegie Mellon has since said that the school is still assessing the allegations detailed in Canaan’s complaint.

“We are steadfast in our commitment to create and nurture a welcoming, inclusive and supportive environment where all students can reach their potential and thrive,” the university said in a statement. “We take any allegations of mistreatment or harassment seriously. We have just received notice of this lawsuit and we will evaluate and respond to it.”

Carnegie Mellon President Farnam Jahanian also expressed some surprise at the charges.

“Antisemitism and other forms of discrimination are antithetical to the values that ground our diverse community and drive our academic mission, and hate has no place on our campus,” he wrote. “The community that I have known and been proud of during my tenure at Carnegie Mellon—a community that deeply values differing identities and actively encourages the respectful exchange of disparate ideas, views and beliefs—is strikingly at odds with the one described in this lawsuit.”


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