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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

SGA passes resolution to support free speech, condemn GW’s suspension of protesters

Daniel Heuer | Assistant Photo Editor
Student Government Association Sen. Claire Avalos (CCAS-U) listens during the first SGA meeting of the 2024-25 year.

The Student Government Association voted to pass a resolution and issue an Instagram statement to support students’ rights to free speech at the meeting Monday and released a second statement Friday following the arrests of more than 30 protesters.

SGA Sen. Claire Avalos (CCAS-U), who sponsored the bill at the Monday meeting, urged senators to condemn officials’ decision to discipline peaceful demonstrators and help unite the GW community amid pro-Palestinian protests on campus and across the country. She said it is “integral” that the SGA support the rights of students who set up an encampment in U-Yard and H Street for almost two weeks to protest the University’s financial ties to Israel and demand that officials disclose investments.

“Voting yes on this bill will not be a political statement,” Avalos said. “It will just be acknowledging that students have the right to free speech, peacefully protest and assemble.”

Senators discussed the resolution in an executive session and originally announced that it did not receive a two-thirds majority after a vote by secret ballot, failing on first consideration. At the end of the meeting, SGA Vice President Ethan Lynne announced a mistake was made and that the resolution only needed a simple majority to pass. The resolution was formally reconsidered and Lynne conducted a second vote by secret ballot, where the resolution passed with 20 senators voting in favor and 6 voting against.

“Due to the SGA’s responsibility in advocating for the interests of students, it is necessary that this senate comes together to fulfill the duty we were elected for,” Avalos said. “Students come to this body to seek acknowledgement and advocacy, not silence.”

The SGA Instagram account posted the statement early Tuesday morning, outlining their condemnation of hate speech on campus and officials’ decision to suspend protesters.

Officials suspended six student protesters who were participating in the U-Yard encampment on April 26. A Student Coalition for Palestine at GWU Instagram post stated that the suspended students faced eviction from their on-campus housing.

“Additionally, we condemn any university decision that leaves students participating in peaceful protests in compliance with the Student Code of Conducts at risk of homelessness and food insecurity,” the statement read.

The senate passed another resolution in a special senate meeting Friday night, condemning the administration’s calls for “excessive force” after Metropolitan Police Department officers cleared the encampment early Wednesday morning.

SGA Sen. Pro Tempore Liz Stoddard (CCAS-U) sponsored the resolution along with co-sponsor Sen. Anika Gupta (GWSB-U). The statement calls on the University to uphold free expression without the use of excessive force towards peaceful demonstrators. Stoddard said she created the resolution after hundreds of MPD officers cleared the encampment and arrested 33 protesters. 

“As representative of the student body, it is our responsibility to safeguard the welfare of our peers. We recognize the significance of abiding by the student conduct guidelines to best promote an environment of safety, collaboration and productivity,” the statement read.

At the Monday meeting senators elected SGA Sen. Liz Stoddard (CCAS-U) to the role of pro-tempore of the senate. As pro tempore, Stoddard said she wants to expand the women’s caucus — a gender equity resource group created by previous Pro Tempore Amy Cowley — so women from all branches can work together. Stoddard said many women in the SGA feel “overlooked or marginalized” and that a designated time for them to work together would be a step towards empowerment.

“Many women often feel overlooked or marginalized and I propose expanding the women’s caucus where women from the executive, senate staff and senators can come together to discuss legislation, goals and simply connect in a secure private setting,” Stoddard said.

SGA President Ethan Fitzgerald said he is committed to advocating for “increased openness” regarding the University’s finances through conversations with administrators, ensuring due process for students and including students in “important campus conversations.”

“Being in this position for just over a week now, I’ve continuously been talking to administration to further these goals and make sure action is taken and important conversations are happening,” Fitzgerald said.

The SGA also elected 10 senators to fill chairperson positions for senate committees. SGA Sen. Jonesy Strell (CCAS-U) was elected as the Chair of the Committee on Finance. Strell pledged to provide students with a breakdown of their student organization’s finances and work to prepare organizations for the upcoming changes to the general allocations process.

The SGA voted to change the funding allocation structure to an event based model where student organizations can request funding from the SGA based on what events they plan to host as opposed to receiving a set amount of money each semester. The new structure will not be fully implemented until Fall 2025.

“Given our limited budget and impartiality of the chair, I can’t promise or guarantee clubs a certain amount of money but what I can commit to is that there will be open communication and transparency from the committee,” Strell said.

Senators also elected SGA Sen. Jorey Reyes (ESIA-U) as the first chairperson of the permanent Subcommittee on Dining after its creation last May. Reyes said she will to continue to focus on ensuring students’ religious, cultural, health and dietary dining needs are met on campus.

“As chairperson of the special committee on dining, I would hope to work on expanding hours, securing healthy options for students and communicating consistently with administration to make sure that the needs of our students are known,” Reyes said.

SGA senators confirmed 16 senate staff members including Darianny Bautista who was appointed director of the first senate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee within the SGA, which Lynne launched. Bautista said her experience as a first generation student who grew up in poverty makes her the “ideal candidate” to introduce initiatives about diversity, equity and inclusion to the GW community.

“I have first-hand experience in navigating the complexities of student governance, collaborating with diverse stakeholders and implementing initiatives that address the needs of the student body,” Bautista said.

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