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By Hannah Marr, News Editor • June 21, 2024

Granberg says GW unable to end ‘illegal’ protest alone

Max Collins | Photographer
Officials were concerned by counterprotesters’ attempts and alleged plans to remove the Palestinian flag that protesters affixed to the George Washington statue in University Yard, emails reveal.

University President Ellen Granberg said GW is unequipped to manage the pro-Palestinian encampment in University Yard and called on GW’s partners, including D.C. officials, for their “full support” on Sunday.

In the message to community members at about 2:30 p.m., Granberg said all of the University’s efforts to end the encampment or deter protesters from escalation have failed, including discussions with students, the assistance of local police and administrative consequences. She said the encampment is “potentially dangerous” and no longer qualifies as a student demonstration.

The message, which doesn’t explicitly ask D.C. officials to clear the encampment, nonetheless calls the protest illegal and places further pressure on the Metropolitan Police Department to clear the demonstration. MPD has reportedly refused to clear it thus far because of concerns over the “optics” of clearing a peaceful demonstration, according to the Washington Post.

“However, when protesters overrun barriers established to protect the community, vandalize a university statue and flag, surround and intimidate GW students with antisemitic images and hateful rhetoric, chase people out of a public yard based on their perceived beliefs, and ignore, degrade, and push GW Police Officers and university maintenance staff, the protest ceases to be peaceful or productive,” Granberg said in the statement.

In the last few days, officials have ramped up their condemnation of the encampment with references to escalating tensions at the demonstration. 

Officials said GW Police Department officers were “forced to withdraw” from their attempt to prevent protesters from raising a Palestinian flag on a Lisner Hall flagpole Thursday, which they called an “aggressive act of lawlessness.” The next day, the University authorized and hung a giant American flag from the roof of Lisner. Students responded that night by projecting an image of President Joe Biden with “Genocide Joe” written underneath. 

There have been some verbal altercations among protesters, police, government officials and counterprotesters that have entered the encampment throughout the demonstration. Organizers have repeatedly requested that protesters avoid engaging with counterprotesters and police, frequently responding to counterprotests with chants telling them to leave.

There have been few reported physical altercations since the encampment began. After GW police allegedly attempted to arrest a demonstrator — a claim officials denied — protesters overran the barricades officials erected around the encampment. The coalition said Provost Chris Bracey “violently attacked” students when he entered the encampment the same night and appeared to grab a protester’s phone. 

Granberg said the encampment demonstration, like others on college campuses across the country, has grown into an “illegal” occupation of GW property. She said GW’s police force “is, and should only be” prepared to protect the University during “normal university operations.”

She reiterated that protesters are in violation of University policies and are trespassing in a space reserved for GW Law students during final exams. GW Law Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew said last week that the school offered law school faculty classrooms to relocate their final exams.

The University’s most recent encampment update states exams held in Bell, Corcoran, Lisner and Samson halls and the School of Media and Public Affairs will be relocated. 

“Conventional protests that abide by municipal law and university policy should and do receive protection and respect, no matter the message’s viewpoint,” Granberg said in the statement. “As I have outlined, this is not what is happening at GW.”

One of the coalition’s demands, which organizers said Granberg has refused to address, is the protection of pro-Palestinian speech on campus. Students have repeatedly said GW censors pro-Palestinian speech and silences student activism. They point to officials’ suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine in November for projecting messages critical of Israel and GW onto Gelman Library and the University’s response to other protests as evidence of “a long history of racist student repression.”

Granberg said the presence of unidentified and “unvetted individuals” living on campus property is “unsafe” and a violation of University and D.C. regulations. She said these individuals don’t have the community’s “best interest in mind.” 

The coalition that began the encampment included students from eight schools across the D.C. region. In the protest’s 11 days, organizers from a handful of local advocacy organizations have visited to rally or make speeches. 

It’s unclear how many of the demonstrators, many of whom hide their identities due to fear of doxxing and harassment, are unaffiliated with GW, but a majority appear to be students. An organizer declined to state how many demonstrators are in the encampment during a press conference Sunday afternoon, citing concerns for demonstrators’ safety. 

The message is Granberg’s third statement on the pro-Palestinian encampment in U-Yard that students from local universities began 11 days ago to call for an end to the war in Gaza, demand their schools divest from companies supplying weapons to Israel, end academic partnerships with Israel and drop student conduct charges against students. It’s her first message not co-signed by Bracey. 

“There is a dire humanitarian crisis occurring in Gaza that must be addressed, and I am personally grief-stricken by the suffering and loss of innocent lives occurring on both sides of this conflict,” Granberg wrote. “I fully support and encourage our community to speak out and engage in controversial and critical dialogues on these crucial issues — as long as they occur within the limits of our University’s policies and the District’s laws.”

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About the Contributors
Faith Wardwell, Managing Editor
Faith Wardwell, a junior majoring in journalism from Boston, Massachusetts, is the 2024-25 managing editor for The Hatchet.
Erika Filter, News Editor
Erika Filter is a senior majoring in international affairs from Carson City, Nevada. She leads the Metro beat as one of The Hatchet's 2023-2024 news editors and previously served as the assistant news editor for the Student Government beat.
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