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GWU administrators ‘tight-lipped’ at university free speech event

Director hesitant to answer student’s questions about pro-Palestinian activism, antisemitism

Only three students showed up to a George Washington University-sponsored free speech event last week where administrators were described as “tight-lipped” and hesitant to answer questions.

The private, D.C. university hosted the “Dinner & Dialogue” with several university leaders amid on-going concerns about divisiveness and free speech issues on campus.

“Learn about GW’s free speech policies and Student Rights & Responsibilities’ analysis of them, followed by a facilitated discussion with Dr. Dwayne Wright, Assistant Professor of Higher Education Administration and GSEHD Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives at GW,” the event description states. “His research and social activism seek to advance educational opportunity and equity for all students, particularly those historically oppressed and marginalized in American society.”

However, The GW Hatchet, which covered the event, described the presenters as “tight-lipped” and hesitant.

At one point, Director of Students Rights and Responsibilities Christy Anthony exhibited a “hesitance to comment” when a student mentioned antisemitic messages projected on the university library by Students for Justice in Palestine in October as an example of unacceptable speech, according to the report.

The messages included “Glory to our martyrs,” “Free Palestine from the river to the sea,” and “Divestment from Zionist genocide now.”

“I, in my role as the director, don’t comment on particular incidents, whether I agree or disagree with how they’re characterized because if I agree with some, disagree with others, it looks like my noncomment is a comment,” Anthony said.

In November, the university suspended the Students for Justice in Palestine group for three months, saying its display violated library use guidelines and a university noncompliance policy, The Hatchet reported at the time.

The minimally-attended “Dinner & Dialogue” took place on the same day as university President Ellen Granberg announced a new initiative aimed at fostering productive dialogue and reviewing policies to ensure a “robust environment of academic freedom, free expression, and freedom of speech” on campus.

Granberg said increased tension and a “rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia” since last fall have challenged GWU leaders to think more deeply about their “commitment to academic freedom and the protection of free speech.”

Earlier this year, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression rated the university as “below average” in its College Free Speech Rankings report.

The FIRE report found more than half of GWU students say they self-censor their opinions at least once or twice a month and fear damaging their reputations because of someone misunderstanding their actions or speech.

What’s more, in 2022, the university removed political science Professor Michael Stoil from class after he used the n-word in an educational context, The College Fix reported.

Several years earlier, GWU mandated a diversity course for incoming freshmen and diversity training for “residential life staff, RAs, Colonial Inauguration [undergraduate orientation] leaders, admissions staff, tour guides, and other staff members who work closely with students,” according to a 2018 report by The Fix. The move came after some students expressed outrage about a sorority’s private social media post involving a banana peel, arguing that it was racist.

Notably, however, the university recently did reject demands to fire Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as an adjunct law professor, saying it supports “the robust exchange of ideas and deliberation.”

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IMAGE: The College Fix

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.