As an alumnus who participated in various protests during my years at GW, I think the decision to shut down the campus for the protests against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank is appalling. National protests have always been a part of the D.C. political scene, greatly enriching the student experience at GW. The University should use the protests as a learning experience, opening itself physically to the protestors and opening a University-wide discussion on the policies of the IMF and World Bank. The fact that GW is near the scene of the protests should be seen as an invaluable asset rather than as a threat to the institution.
While at GW, I participated in a number of the national protests in Washington that inevitably permeated the campus. Students are always at the forefront of movements for social justice. Therefore, it should be no surprise that GW students will have friends coming to stay in the residence halls. The University should allow students to have meetings and events with the protestors so they can express themselves and explain their causes. This is not a threat to the institution; rather, it is an amazing opportunity for learning.
GW administrators are right to look at the Seattle protests to figure out how to respond to the D.C. protests. But GW is learning the wrong lessons from Seattle and taking the wrong side. GW’s actions clearly show that the University considers the students and protestors to be a threat to the institution. Rather, the lesson from Seattle is that the police and the government were responsible for the chaos and disorder in the streets by wildly overreacting to the vast majority of peaceful protesters. GW should open itself up, providing a safe haven in its buildings for any students that are threatened and chased by police.
In fact, this happened at one anti-Vietnam War protest. The police chased protesters onto the GW campus, where the students only avoided being badly beaten by taking refuge in one of the residence halls. GW security guards helped the students by not allowing the cops into the residence hall. This is what an institution that supports basic democratic rights – like the right to express an opinion through protest without being beaten by the police – should do. Universities around the world are considered autonomous places where people can go to avoid repression.
At national protests while I was at GW, many of my classmates had friends stay with them in their residence halls, and the institution did not collapse. Protestors marched down streets adjacent to campus, and the world did not end. Rather, students curiously looked out of their residence hall windows or came out into the street to learn what was going on.
Shutting down GW in the face of a national protest is shockingly narrow-minded and paranoid. I am saddened that GW is sending the not-so-subtle message to its students that protestors are evil, and protests should be avoided. I have fond memories of my time at GW, including being a part of the protests in D.C. I cannot give money to GW if its practice under President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is to take paranoid and anti-democratic actions that damage the educational and life experience of GW students.
-The writer graduated in 1992.