At least 70 students and professors are promising to light up in Kogan Plaza on Tuesday to protest the University’s plans to become smoke-free.
Students who organized the protest said the smoking ban – which would go in place in all campus spaces and around 25-feet of all campus buildings – oversteps the bounds of a college by violating their freedom of expression. They also said smokers who are kicked to the curb will smoke off campus in possibly dangerous areas and will also potentially flare tensions with neighbors.
Senior Ellis Klein organized the protest and said he was shocked by what he called a minimal outcry from students. He said he wants to raise the voices who also oppose the ban.
“There’s only been a whimper of opposition that has come up. We want to be that bang. We won’t compromise, and we certainly won’t back down,” Klein, a history major, said.
Junior Christian Geoghegan arranged the protest with Klein. He said the ban violates his freedom of choice.
“We’re a little guy movement. We’re just students trying to rise up against a tyrannical university," he said.
Geoghegan called the smoke-free effort “absurd” and blasted GW for saying the ban was a student-driven idea when few students weighed in on the idea. The Student Association held a referendum last February about the smoking ban, which was floated by graduate student organization Colonials for Clean Air. The referendum showed that 66 percent of students favored the ban, but less than 20 percent of the student body cast a vote.
“They are claiming that it’s the students who support it but that’s not true,” Geoghegan, philosophy major, said. “The smokers, the people who actually care about this, had no idea.”
Both the Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate executive committee have given their seals of approval on the idea in the last month. The University will announce the plan Nov. 15 at its annual Great American Smokeout.
Both students said they did not know about the vote last spring, information about which was sent out by the SA, and found similar sentiment among other students when trying to raise awareness of their protest.
“We’re just trying to spread that we’re having a protest but we’re fighting this on two fronts. We first have to alert people about the ban,” Geoghegan said.
The campaign, dubbed Smokers of the World, Unite!, plays on the idea of the worker detailed in The Communist Manifesto. Klein said it was wrong that the University did not ask workers what they thought of the policy, although it “disproportionately affects the workers.”
“Students have a propensity for skirting the law here, but workers could be fired, and that’s absurd. These peoples’ livelihoods depend on it,” Klein said.
The group will launch a social media campaign this week, including a video that features testimonies from GW employees who are opposed to the ban – a population that they say was included even less in the decision than students.
Klein said he heard from a handful of maintenance workers and UPD officers who do not want the ban to take effect, but said they feared retribution from GW if they spoke out.
“You’d be surprised with how many people love their cigarettes. It’s not just something you do, it’s who you are and its also a communal activity,” Geoghegan, who is also a former Hatchet writer, said.
Senior Associate Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said that the University is looking at the ban from a health perspective, saying GW wants to “keep it as healthy an environment as possible without infringing on their personal choice.”
“What we’re trying to do is from another angle: the ways in which students live, work and play and to see how this affects them socially out in front of residence halls and at the Marvin Center at student events,” Konwerski added.
The protest at 2:30 p.m. in front of Kogan Plaza’s Clock Tower will “be respectful” and include small signs and a few brief speeches, Klein said.
“We’re going to all join here and smoke to show them. We’re here to make a statement,” Klein said.
This article was updated Nov. 12, 2012 to reflect the following:
The photo caption incorrectly stated that the protest would be Nov.15. It is planned for Nov. 13.