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GW rejects divestment demands; meets with pro-Palestinian organizers

Max Collins | Photographer
Organizers give a press conference about their first meeting with officials to discuss their demands in front of newly erected U-Yard fencing.

Members of pro-Palestinian student organizations requested top officials reschedule a meeting on Friday to discuss concerns raised during recent campus protests, saying the invitation was sent on short notice during a time of Muslim prayer.

University President Ellen Granberg, Provost Chris Bracey, Chief Financial Officer Bruno Fernandes and Dean of Students Colette Coleman invited seven student organizations to a 45-minute meeting at 1 p.m. on Friday to discuss issues raised during protests like free speech and Islamophobia on campus. The email from officials also said that GW will not consider changes to its “endowment investment strategy,” academic partnerships, or student conduct processes after more than two weeks of pro-Palestinian campus protests to pressure officials to divest from companies with ties to Israel.

GWU Students for Justice in Palestine asked officials to reschedule the meeting to 5 p.m. in order to prepare for “good faith dialogue” in an email reply cosigned by the other invited student groups. The email states that officials showed a “concerning lack of genuine interest” in engaging with students by scheduling the meeting on short notice during Jummah, the obligatory Friday prayer for Muslims, as well as on the final day of exams.

“While we are more than interested in continuing negotiations and having dialogue, we are uninterested in having this discussion on a foundation of bad faith on your part,” the email reply states.

In her invitation, Coleman asked GWU SJP, the Asian American Student Association, Black Defiance, the GW Arab Student Association, Jewish Voice for Peace, Socialist Action Initiative and the Muslim Students’ Association to select one registered student in “good standing with the University” to speak at the meeting. The invitation requested students to present a valid GWorld card in order to get into the meeting due to “heightened security” due to events on campus.

Granberg said in a Faculty Senate meeting Friday at about 2 p.m. that students were unable to make the meeting but that officials are looking forward to being in touch with students “very shortly.”

Protesters camped out in tents in University Yard and H Street for nearly two weeks to demand officials divest from companies with ties to Israel, drop charges against pro-Palestinian student organizers, protect pro-Palestinian speech on campus, end all academic partnerships with ties to Israel and disclose all University endowments and investments. Local police cleared the encampment and arrested 33 demonstrators, of which at least six were GW students, early Wednesday morning. Some officers deployed pepper spray and used physical force in the arrests.

On Thursday night, following police’s clearing of the encampment and arrests early Wednesday morning, about 150 protesters rallied and pitched tents outside administrative buildings on F Street for about three hours, dispersing after officers warned the crowd five times to leave or face arrest. After many protesters left, Metropolitan Police Department officers had arrested one demonstrator, who MPD later alleged assaulted an officer.

In their reply to officials’ invitation, students restated their demands.

“Since we first expressed our demands to the administration, we have always been open to constructive dialogue to reach an amendable solution for our community and the administration,” students’ email reply states.

Students also said in their reply that giving organizations a two-hour notice for the meeting during finals week lacks “any consideration” for students’ education. The email also requests that officials exclude Bracey from the conversation because organizers alleged he assaulted two students at the U-Yard encampment, including a member of the encampment’s negotiations team.

The email states that Bracey has shown “no regard” for demonstrators’ “safety, well-being and dignity.” The Student Coalition for Palestine at GWU posted a video from the fourth day of the encampment in which Bracey appeared to grab the phone of a student recording him. A University spokesperson did not return a request to meet with Bracey to discuss the altercation.

“As such, we are uninterested in dialogue with an administrator who abuses his power and position and sees fit to assault two female students, one who is Jewish and one who is South Asian,” the email reads.

GWU SJP stated later in the email that the organizations are “more than willing” to meet at 5 p.m. Friday so that they have time to prepare for “good-faith” dialogue. If officials were to meet with demonstrators, it would seemingly be the first time they’ve publicly done so since the encampment was pitched on April 25.

— By Fiona Riley and Rachel Moon

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

Updated 12:35 a.m. — Student representatives hold press conference after meeting with officials 

Following their conversation with officials, student organization representatives held a press conference at about 6:45 p.m. in front of the barricades enclosing U-Yard at 21st and H streets.

A representative told the crowd the meeting was not “inclusive nor productive” because University President Ellen Granberg and other officials are trying to “neutralize” the coalition’s demands instead of working to make changes to their current policies. 

“Her administration’s claim to engage in good faith dialogue is contradictory when every attempt they’ve made to suppress pro Palestinian speech has been conducted in bad faith,” the representative said. 

The representative said it is ironic that Coleman’s initial email to student organizations mentioned discussing Islamophobia on campus when officials allegedly allowed officers to rip off demonstrators’ hijabs and throw away Qurans and prayer mats while clearing the encampment. 

An MPD spokesperson said Friday morning that MPD is not currently investigating claims of officers ripping off protesters’ hijabs. 

“The administration facilitated the destruction of Qurans and Muslim prayer mats that were collectively distributed to the encampment by the community,” the representative said. 

The representative said that a few months ago she approached Granberg to ask her to divest from weapons companies supplying arms to Israel and protect Palestinian people. She said Granberg suggested she “get active” in student activism because it’s “important work.”  

“Five months later, I was pepper sprayed in the face and back upon orders for following that exact advice,” the representative said. 

Another representative said the members that met with Granberg made sure she understood their demands and that the coalition is not interested in “casual dialogue” with officials. 

“We hope that upon the next meeting we will be able to have some form of material change but we also understand that ultimately the power in our community resides with that community,” the representative said. 

A person in the crowd asked the representatives if they would respond to people who say the University should not work with them because of their violations of University policies. 

A representative replied that current University policies break from students’ desire to advocate for the “destruction” of oppressive structures like materialism and colonialism. 

“Ultimately, those rules that are in place simply serve to uphold that established structure that enables that violence to continue,” the representative said. 

Another person in the crowd asked the representatives to discuss details about Provost Chris Bracey allegedly assaulting two demonstrators.

In an email student organization leaders sent to Coleman Friday afternoon asking her to reschedule the initial 1 p.m. meeting, they alleged that Bracey had assaulted two female students during the encampment protests. The Student Coalition for Palestine at GWU posted a video on the fourth night of the encampment in which Bracey appeared to grab the phone of a student recording him. A University spokesperson did not return a request for The Hatchet to speak with Bracey about the alleged incident. 

The representative said the assaults were not an “isolated incident of violence” and that the team was not comfortable with him attending the meeting to discuss their demands. 

“I do not feel safe with the fact that the University continues to ignore the fact that he assaulted my friends and then tries to put him in the same room as us when they haven’t paid any attention at all,” the representative said.

Updated: 12:58 p.m.

The Hatchet incorrectly reported that officials scheduled the initial meeting for 2 p.m. It was set for 1 p.m. We regret this error.

Updated: 12:06 a.m. — Granberg meets with student organizers, rejects divestment demands

University President Ellen Granberg said officials won’t commit to financial transparency at a preliminary meeting with pro-Palestinian student organization representatives Friday evening. 

Granberg, Chief Financial Officer Bruno Fernandes and Dean of Students Colette Coleman met with seven student organization leaders to “open lines of dialogue” and explain that officials are “not considering” altering the University’s endowment investment strategy, academic partnerships or SRR processes, according to a statement from the University. The GWU Student Coalition for Palestine livestreamed the meeting on Instagram, which officials originally scheduled for 2 p.m. but moved to 5 p.m. because representatives said the original time conflicted with Jummah prayer and did not give them enough time to prepare. 

Organizers also requested in an email sent to Coleman Friday afternoon that Provost Chris Bracey, who was slated to attend the 2 p.m. meeting, not participate in conversations because they alleged he assaulted two female students during the campus protests. On the fourth day of the encampment, Bracey walked through U-Yard after protesters breached the barricades, and appeared to grab the phone of a student recording him.

Bracey did not attend the meeting at 5 p.m.

Officials invited seven student organizations — Students for Justice in Palestine, the Asian American Student Association, Black Defiance, the GW Arab Student Association, Jewish Voice for Peace, Socialist Action Initiative and the Muslim Students’ Association — to select a representative to speak on behalf of their organization in an email sent this morning. 

The coalition, including members from all seven student organizations represented at the meeting, set up tents in University Yard and H street for nearly two weeks to demand officials drop all charges against pro-Palestinian students and organizations, disclose all investments, end academic partnerships with Israel, divest from companies with ties to Israel and protect pro-Palestinian speech. Organizers and media liaisons first called for officials to set up a meeting and discuss their demands on the first day of the encampment on April 25.  

During the meeting, Granberg asked students about their demands, their reasoning for not relocating the encampment to Anniversary Park after requests from officials on the encampment’s first day and their thoughts on how the University can foster a safe community when students don’t follow GW policies. She also said she could add a student representative to a “committee” that discusses transparency. 

Granberg and student organization representatives agreed to meet again in a virtual format on Sunday at a time that has not yet been determined. 

One representative said in the meeting that faculty, alumni and students have pushed the University for the “reasonable request” that the University disclose financial investments, but have not previously received a timeline for transparency efforts. 

“They want to know what they’re investing and they want to know that they’re not being forced into the complicity and genocide that this university is complicit in,” the representative said. 

Granberg asked the representative if there are particular companies the demonstrators would like the University to divest from, and the organizer said they want divestment from all weapons manufacturing companies. 

“That is an extensive list we can get into but we also don’t have the financial disclosure to know what the university is invested in,” the organizer said. 

Granberg asked the representatives why the demonstrators did not accept officials’ offer to move the encampment to Anniversary Park on the first day of the demonstrations in order to avoid disrupting GW Law students taking exams in buildings adjacent to U-Yard. 

A representative told Granberg that demonstrators were only permitted to remain in Anniversary Park from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. which “defeats the purpose” of an encampment protest. Another representative added that administrators informed demonstrators of the “potential risk” of noise complaints from students, but that no students ever filed a complaint. 

“How do we operate as a community if the policies that we jointly develop for how we’re going to live together are not respected?” Granberg asked after clarifying that the question applies both to University policies and the treatment of pro-Palestinian student groups. 

One representative said the University’s policies are similar to other institutions in the United States that were created with “bias” and disproportionately affect historically underrepresented communities. He said he and fellow demonstrators did not help develop any of the University’s policies. 

“We didn’t create these rules, I didn’t have input in any of these rules,” the representative said. 

Another representative said officials need to drop the charges against pro-Palestinian demonstrators, protect free speech on campus and divest from companies that are committing “atrocities” in Palestine to create a safe space for all students.

“I think everyone in this room understands justice and justice to us looks like meeting our demands,” the representative said. 

Granberg said currently she is “not prepared to make a commitment to” financial transparency but that Fernandes can meet with the representatives to share more information on the University’s investments and finances. She said she could commit to adding a student to a committee that discusses transparency. 

A representative asked if she could guarantee that the member selected to the committee would be a representative of their community and Granberg said it is “standard procedure” for the student government to select student representatives to University committees. The representative said the SGA has proved “oppositional” to the pro-Palestinian community, but Granberg said she is “reluctant” to make an exception to that policy. 

“That doesn’t really give us much because Student Government has, again, proved oppositional to our community,” the representative said. 

One representative told officials that students, faculty and alumni will “not be okay” with the lack of concrete changes resulting from the meeting. They said protesters will continue to fight for divestment from Israel and urge the University to disclose finances to the GW community. 

“People have been in the encampment for two weeks, and that’s a level of dedication and resilience that doesn’t just drop when they sleep, when they get pepper sprayed, when they get arrested,” the representative said. 

Arwen Clemans | Staff Photographer

Updated: 8:13 p.m. — Civil Rights organizations condemn handling of encampment clearings

Two civil rights organizations issued statements Thursday condemning the Metropolitan Police Department’s clearing of the encampment in University Yard on Wednesday morning.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, condemned the discard of prayer mats and Qurans while the University Yard encampments were being cleared in a statement Thursday morning. The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee also issued a statement Thursday condemning the University for clearing the encampment a day prior.

CAIR said they received a series of photographs appearing to show people loading Islamic prayer mats into a garbage truck. The organization had previously called on the University to allow legal observers and medics into the encampment on its third day.

On the morning of the clearing, a letter taped onto a pole on H Street said the Metropolitan Police Department collected “various items of property” from the 2000 Block of Street, and directed people requesting to claim items to contact the department’s Evidence Control Division before they dispose of any unclaimed property after 90 days. 

The organization said the individual who they received the photos from said when students went to collect their items at a waste management transfer station, they did not find any prayer mats or Quran copies. 

“Muslim students at The George Washington University used these prayer mats to bow in humility before God, read these English translations of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, and shared these and other books with their fellow students,” CAIR Research and Advocacy Director Corey Saylor said in the statement. “Destroying religious belongings without giving students any opportunity to collect them was unacceptable.” 

Saylor said University President Ellen Grandberg and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser “must” apologize for the destruction of religious items and the police force on Wednesday morning.

ADC National also issued a statement yesterday saying they were outraged at the endangerment of students by university administrators across the country and said GW’s clearing was another “excessive show of force” against pro-Palestinian student protestors. The statement referenced Columbia University’s clearing saying it follows the “military-style invasion of hundreds of NYPD officers” and that students across the country have been arrested for standing in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

“At GWU, President Ellen Granberg refused to engage in good faith negotiations with peaceful student protestors,” the statement said. “Instead, she abandoned her responsibilities to protect students by twice calling in the notoriously brutal D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to clear the peaceful demonstration.”

The statement alleged Granberg, other University administrators and the Republican-led House Committee on Oversight and Accountability “amped up” pressure on MPD Chief Pamela Smith and Bowser to clear the encampment to avoid testifying to Congress. 

The statement said the actions taken by government officials and law enforcement are symbolic of “censorship and brutality” seen in McCarthyism or the Second Red Scare — which is often used today to describe damaging someone’s reputation with unproven accusations. 

“These brutal repression tactics are taken straight from the pages of past crackdowns on peaceful protesters – from the anti-war and anti-apartheid movements of decades past to the Black Lives Matter movement just a few years ago,” the statement said. 

The statement said the nationwide encampments in solidarity of Palestinians in Gaza have been proven to remain peaceful and some universities have negotiated with demonstrators which has led to compromises. 

Updated: 5:46 p.m. — Student organization representatives meet with University officials, live stream meeting 

Pro-Palestinian student organization representatives are currently live streaming their meeting with top officials and will host a press conference at 6 p.m. to share what they discussed. 

The meeting was set to begin at 5 p.m. and the GWU Student Coalition for Palestine Instagram account is streaming the conversation with University President Ellen Granberg and other officials. The DMV Students for Justice in Palestine Coalition announced in an Instagram post that the organization representatives will host a press conference in front of the barricades at 21st and H streets to share the contents of the meeting with community members. 

Officials requested that representatives from seven student organizations meet at 1 p.m. to discuss concerns raised during pro-Palestinian protests on campus over the last few weeks, which students rejected because it was scheduled during a time of Muslim prayer and Provost Chris Bracey, who allegedly assaulted two demonstrators, was set to attend. 

The post states that officials agreed to the “conditions proposed” by students — to move the meeting time to 5 p.m. and remove Bracey from the conversation.

Updated: 4:33 p.m. — Three men clean George Washington statue, walkways in U-Yard 

Three men in rain gear were seen scrubbing the George Washington statue and power washing the walkways in University Yard at around 11 a.m. on Friday. 

During the 13-day period that protesters occupied U-Yard, they draped keffiyehs and Palestinian flags around the George Washington statue, attached stickers reading “Free Palestine” and “None of us are free until all of us are free” and painted phrases like “Genocidal warmonger university” on the statue’s base. Granberg alleged that demonstrators had vandalized the statue in an email statement to community members Sunday. 

University spokesperson Josh Grossman told Fox News Digital on Tuesday that GW planned to “engage on restoring” the George Washington statue with the help of “professionals.” 

Workers placed a gray sheet over the statue Wednesday after Metropolitan Police Department officers cleared the encampment earlier that morning, arresting more than 30 demonstrators. 

Updated: 4:18 p.m. — MPD drops charges against protester detained last night

The Metropolitan Police Department dropped charges against a demonstrator detained last night who police claimed assaulted an officer, according to a Student Coalition for Palestine at GWU Instagram post Friday afternoon. 

“The student has had the bogus charges dropped and is released,” the post reads. 

The protester was arrested at about 12:15 a.m. Friday morning after a crowd of protesters outside University President Ellen Granberg’s F Street House dispersed onto H Street. The Hatchet was unable to confirm details about the altercation that led to the arrest.

MPD did not immediately return a request for comment. 

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