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The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Op-ed: GSEHD’s International Education Program must speak up for Gaza

Emily Zanieski is a graduate student of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and the International Education Program.

Two years ago, I was proud to be joining GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development and the International Education Program. I was excited to enter the program because of its emphasis on fostering compassionate and action-oriented leaders. But due to the program’s choice to remain silent amid the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza, I don’t think I feel the same way anymore.

The first line on the IEP website states that “to ensure constructive leadership and improvements in our global community, international education professionals must address critical issues concerning education reform and social justice on a global scale.” I believed the program was truly dedicated to this mission, but instead of tackling social justice issues head-on, IEP faculty fail to speak out while an education emergency unfolds in Gaza. Their silence contradicts the program’s commitment, remaining at odds with the responsibility of educators to lead by example by actively engaging in shaping a better world.

Nearly 90 percent of schools in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. Schools, once places of learning, are now places of refuge. As a department committed to fostering knowledge, equity and justice, it is imperative to speak out against any injustice that deprives a child of their right to education.

Our IEP professors talk about social justice in the classroom and providing education to refugee communities in emergencies. Yet the program has yet to make any statement about the current state of education in Gaza or the current events on campus.

This past summer, I had my own experience teaching refugee children and women in Nablus, a city in the West Bank. I was encouraged by IEP faculty to post a blog about my experience on our program’s Refugee Educational Advancement Lab website highlighting the lessons I learned as a practitioner in the field. But when I submitted it for peer review, IEP professors asked me via email Oct. 14 to provide a “neutral summary of the current situation,” even though my piece did not touch on Gaza at all.

The reason given to me was REAL’s status as a neutral and nonpartisan organization, per its website. Yet, the organization posted a blog about the war in Ukraine in February 2022 stating that it “joins a loud chorus of international voices condemning the actions of the Russian leadership today.”

Why is it encouraged to remain neutral during one humanitarian disaster but not the other? We should be worried about all attacks on education and students, whether that be in Gaza, Ukraine or at GW.

This silence, while disappointing, is not surprising. It reflects a broader trend among academic institutions where mission statements proclaim dedication to social justice and global engagement, yet their actions often fall short.

The role of our professors extends beyond the classroom. Staying neutral or silent during an education crisis is not merely a passive stance. It is an active decision to prioritize comfort and status quo over the principles of justice and advocacy that should guide our actions.

While some of my professors have stayed quiet, I thank Dr. Dwayne Kwaysee Wright of GSEHD’s Higher Education Administration for his statement acknowledging the children and students who have been killed in Gaza as well as other GSEHD faculty who have supported GW students’ right to peacefully protest against the violence in Gaza.

However uncomfortable it may be, I urge IEP faculty to publicly address the education crisis in Gaza and engage in critical reflection about the role they have in speaking out on such issues. Even a private dialogue with a concerned student is a step in the right direction.

Faculty at GW have taught us that education is inherently a political issue and one we cannot remain neutral or silent on. It is our responsibility to recognize that when people’s right to education is stripped away, it becomes our duty to speak out and act. I can only hope the IEP and its faculty will soon look inward, reflect and use their voices.

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