Both Jena Six and last week’s controversial poster campaign have caused some students to call for increased awareness and action against racism and religious intolerance at GW and colleges nationwide.
University President Steven Knapp recognized the poster’s content as satirical, he said in a blast e-mail Friday, but also said the posters “do not represent the attitudes of our student body.”
“Our campus has come together in deploring expressions of hatred and reaffirming our principles of civility and mutual respect,” Knapp said.
Students convened Wednesday night at a Student Association town hall and panel discussion. The SA initially planned for the forum’s theme to be “What has Jena taught us?” but changed the theme to “Tolerance on our campus and in our society” in light of last week’s poster controversy.
“We have slipped on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to tolerance and dignity,” said Michael Tapscott, director of the Multicultural Student Services Center.
At the forum, students discussed Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. Some who spoke were appalled that the University would allow the event to take place.
Senior Shannon Holmes, a member of the Black Student Union, encouraged students to protest the week through a letter-writing campaign.
“Why are we tolerating such events?” Holmes asked. “Why are we letting speakers like (conservative author David) Horowitz come to our campus?”
SA Executive Vice President Brand Kroeger encouraged students to attend the events, and if Horowitz said something hateful or racist, to challenge him on his statements. Kroeger, a junior, also noted that while Horowitz spoke at last year’s awareness week as well, few students mentioned it.
At the forum, students also discussed defining hate speech and instituting policies against hate speech on campus.
Tim Miller, the executive director of the Student Activities Center, said students should be able to express their opinions as long as it is done in a “civil and instructive manner,” which the fliers did not do, he said.
While most of the discussion centered on the poster incident, American studies professor Suleiman Osman warned against keeping the dialogue limited to one event.
“Focusing on incidents does not give a sense of larger structural issues and problems of racial inequality,” he said.
The BSU and the GW chapter of the NAACP are beginning to put this idea into practice, compiling testimonies of racism on campus. These groups said they want to increase their presence at GW and raise awareness of all racist incidents on campus, including a roommate’s racist remark or a professor’s ignorant comment.
“We clearly see that there are racist sentiments within the University,” said Whitney McGuire, president of the GW chapter of NAACP. “In this educational institution, we expect a certain level of openness.”
They are also looking to reach out to other colleges where racial incidents have occurred, such as the hanging of nooses at the University of Maryland and Columbia University.
“We are committed to spreading awareness and contributing money, bodies, time and other resources to support initiatives that seek to combat these insanities,” said senior Charles Basden, president of the BSU, referring to the racial incidents that have happened on colleges around the country.
Tapscott said the MSSC is collecting testimonies documenting both positive and negative racial experiences on the GW campus.