The Education Department Helps Combat Woke Discrimination
The Biden administration is imposing a woke agenda on America using the vast power of the administrative state. Through a series of executive orders, the president has charged every federal agency with advancing “diversity, equity and inclusion,” a divisive ideology that justifies pervasive racial discrimination. Yet one corner of the federal bureaucracy is stifling the woke agenda simply by enforcing the law.
The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is no conservative bastion. Staffed mostly by liberal career attorneys, and situated within one of the government’s most aggressively woke departments, it is charged with upholding federal antidiscrimination laws in education, including Title VI and Title IX. OCR is required by law to investigate complaints of discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance. The office is rejecting much of what higher education is attempting to do at the behest of woke ideologues.
Consider so-called racial affinity groups, a common woke initiative. These segregated entities, which many campuses have attempted to introduce, are open only to students of a specific race. An April article in the New England Journal of Medicine praised the separation of medical students by race while calling for the establishment of white-only affinity groups whose members would be “held accountable.” The authors also cast affinity groups for black medical students as protecting them from “otherwise-common denial, gaslighting . . . and White fragility.” This toxic language harks back to segregationists’ claims that separating whites and blacks benefitted both groups.
Such blatant racial discrimination is precisely what Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws—and what OCR was created to stop. In October 2022, we filed a complaint challenging the racial affinity groups at the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine, the institution at the heart of the New England Journal of Medicine article. OCR opened an investigation, prompting the university to cancel its racial affinity groups before the investigation could conclude. OCR pressured the university to agree that if affinity groups return, they will be open to medical students of all races. Something similar happened when we submitted a Title VI complaint against Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In both cases, OCR effectively ruled that racial affinity groups are illegal.
We’ve found similar success pushing back on racially discriminatory academic programs, which woke activists support in the name of increasing diversity. Hundreds of institutions have scholarships or fellowships that explicitly bar white and Asian applicants. The University of Florida College of Medicine offered a scholarship for applicants who were “African Americans and/or Black, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Hispanic/Latinx, and Pacific Islander.” Applicants even had to submit a photograph to prove they were of the preferred hue. We submitted a formal complaint to the Office for Civil Rights, leading the university to eliminate the scholarship’s discriminatory restrictions.
All told, we have submitted federal civil-rights complaints for race- and sex-based discrimination at more than 100 medical schools, leading the Office for Civil Rights to open at least 25 formal federal investigations so far. To date, almost a dozen medical schools have abandoned their racially discriminatory woke programs, most recently at the University of Minnesota Medical School, which removed illegal criteria for an award for graduating medical students.
Why is the Office for Civil Rights standing strong against woke demands, especially when other federal agencies are doing activists’ bidding? We suspect that many if not most of the OCR staff are sympathetic to DEI. Yet the laws they uphold couldn’t be clearer that racial discrimination is illegal, and ignoring or slow-walking complaints could subject them to public criticism and legal challenges.
It also helps that the Education Department allows any individual or organization to submit civil-rights complaints to OCR, not only victims of discrimination who would have legal standing to sue. That’s not the case at similar offices at agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the context of medical schools and hospitals—our organization’s focus—these agencies require faculty or students who have encountered discrimination at their institutions to file complaints under their name. Such victims are understandably reluctant to open themselves up to withering criticism and retaliation from their mostly woke peers, faculty and administrators. (We’ve found they typically don’t know they can file lawsuits anonymously as a member of an organization like ours.)
The Office for Civil Rights will become even more important if the Supreme Court ends racial preferences for college admissions in its pending Students for Fair Admissions cases. If that happens, universities will almost certainly try to get around the decision by creating more scholarships, fellowships, internships and clerkships that are available only to members of specific races. Regardless of whether that happens, the Office for Civil Rights will continue its necessary work—a lonely federal outpost fighting the racial discrimination that the Biden administration is trying to impose on the country.
Read the piece from the Wall Street Journal here.