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

Officials quiet on date for first campus safety committee meeting following cancellation

Lexi Critchett | Assistant Photo Editor
An old poster protesting the arming of GWPD sits at the base of a lamp post.

Officials have not rescheduled the inaugural meeting for a campus safety committee, after attributing its cancelation to the onset of the pro-Palestinian encampment.

Officials last month formed the Campus Safety Advisory Committee — made up of five students, five staff, five faculty, one community member and six officials — to identify and highlight “positive safety practices” and “concerns and challenges” on GW’s campuses. The committee’s first meeting, slated for April 25, coincided with the first day of the weeks-long encampment in University Yard, which prompted officials to cancel the meeting in an email hours before the scheduled 6 p.m. start time because some members could no longer attend. 

Officials said in the email sent to committee members that they would do their “best” to reschedule the meeting before the end of the semester. But interim Vice President for Safety and Facilities Baxter Goodly, the committee’s chair, said officials have not rescheduled the meeting because members were involved in “demonstration response operations” at the conclusion of the semester, which prevented officials from finding a time for the group to convene.

“We are eager to stand up the Campus Safety Advisory Committee, which plays an important role in our university community,” Goodly said in an email. 

Goodly said officials will contact committee members “as soon as possible” to propose “next steps.” He said officials look forward to scheduling a meeting at “the earliest availability” but did not say when officials would reschedule the first meeting. 

Goodly declined to comment on whether officials consulted committee members on safety measures during the encampment and if officials plan to solicit feedback from members on the University’s response to the demonstrations. 

Committee members said at the first meeting they hope to discuss the University’s response to the encampment, the Board of Trustees’ decision last year to arm GW Police Department officers and officials’ communication with community members during emergency responses.

Graduate student Michael Pissos said while he understands that certain stakeholders were busy, he was “extremely disappointed” that officials canceled the meeting. He said he wishes the committee found time to convene because the encampment posed risks to campus safety.

Encampment protesters occupied the University Yard and a strip of H Street for about two weeks, prompting officials to restrict access to campus buildings and spaces. Metropolitan Police Department officers cleared the encampment on May 8, using pepper spray and arresting 33 protesters. 

Pissos said he hopes the committee will discuss creating a “holistic” response plan for similar campus protests in the future. He said he wants the committee to prioritize protecting students’ safety regardless of race, religion and ethnicity, and discuss how some Jewish students felt unsafe during the demonstrations. 

“I found it to be ironic that a campus safety meeting was canceled due to campus safety incidents and threats,” Pissos said. 

Pissos said he previously served as a police officer in Ohio and Arizona, which led him to apply to the committee. He said he plans to vocalize his support for officials’ decision to arm campus police because GW is an open urban campus that requires armed police who can promptly respond to an emergency threat of gun violence to prevent a mass shooting, which he said is a risk because of rising gun violence in D.C. 

He said he will advocate for officials to arm GWPD officers intentionally and carefully, ensuring armed officers receive “rigorous” training on use of force. GWPD firearm training involves two hours of monthly training with a virtual reality simulator and a 56-hour firearms course.

“It’s something that should be done thoughtfully,” Pissos said. “I do think it’s something that should be done as soon as possible.”

Eli McCarthy, a professor of peace studies, said he wasn’t surprised the meeting was canceled due to the encampment’s onset, but that he wishes officials would have convened the committee at some point during the demonstrations since officials cited safety as the reason for many of their decisions related to the encampment, like limiting access to campus spaces. He said hearing input from the committee dedicated to campus safety could have grown the “credibility of that claim” and allowed officials to consider alternative approaches to addressing safety concerns. 

“Not calling together the committee seems to de-prioritize or undermine the claim about safety,” McCarthy said in an email. 

McCarthy said officials would have increased safety and better met the community’s needs if they formally negotiated with student protesters about their demands toward the beginning of the encampment, adding that officials missed an opportunity for deeper collective learning about an “urgent issue.”

He said officials instead rooted too many of their decisions and communications in a “punitive” approach — pointing to officials’ use of verbal ultimatums, temporary suspensions and police clearings and arrests — which he said made the situation less safe for students protesting. He said he hopes the committee will discuss the differences between using a punitive approach versus a restorative justice approach to conflict. 

“Nonviolent disruption is a critical part of social change when there are significant power differentials, “ McCarthy said. “If we undermine such nonviolent disruptions, even when they impact ‘normal’ operations, we will only make violent resistance more plausible in our society, and thus, make all of us less safe.”

Kathryn Fleisher, a graduate student studying public health and health policy, said articulating that armed GWPD officers pose a safety risk will be a “centerpiece” of her contributions to the committee. She said she will urge officials to publicize officers’ records and explanations of how officials chose to arm each officer. GWPD publishes an annual statistical review of complaints made against officers, but the review does not specify which officers the complaints are against. 

Faculty Senators passed a resolution in October calling on GWPD to pause the arming process until officials disclosed community feedback, any changes to liability insurance and operational costs associated with the arming process.

Fleisher added that she wants officials to create an accountability board of students, staff and faculty to review armed officers and recommend disciplinary actions for officers if necessary. 

She said she will request officials lay out a clear goal for campus arming and establish an evaluation period to assess if the arming policy is achieving its goal. She said the evaluation period would include a commitment from trustees to reverse their decision if the policy does not achieve its goal. 

“If we are moving forward with this and you’re not willing to stop this process, we need to put guardrails on it, we need to put conditions on it,” Fleisher said. “We need to ensure that if we are spending money on firearms and having armed officers, that it is actually making our community safer.” 

Vanessa Fontana Keszler, the senior director of academic operations at the College of Professional Studies, said she works closely with GW’s emergency management teams and hopes to problem-solve based on concerns students and faculty present at meetings. She said she hopes to discuss how officials can more effectively communicate safety protocols to prepare students, faculty and staff for an emergency incident. 

“I hope something that we tackle, as I’m hearing that it’s not always crystal clear,” Fontana Keszler said. 

Sophomore Salmoncain Smith-Shomade, a former Hatchet reporter, said he was a member of the interim Independent Review Committee — which officials created in September to review any GWPD officer’s use of force and provide recommendations on GWPD policy. He said he applied for the Campus Safety Advisory Committee because he wants to continue ensuring the communities he represents feel safe on campus. He said he will push for increased communication between students and officials about campus safety concerns. 

“A safe community is one that allows people to have a voice and allows people to communicate with each other and allows people to interact with each other to understand and empathize with each other on matters of safety,” Smith-Shomade said. 

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About the Contributor
Rory Quealy, News Editor
Rory Quealy is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communications from La Grange, Illinois. She leads the Metro beat as one of The Hatchet's 2024-25 news editors. She was previously the assistant news editor for the Health and Research beat and a research assistant.
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