University President Steven Knapp spoke candidly about the recent hate incidents at GW to more than 130 people gathered Friday night for the Hillel Shabbat dinner, only minutes after a ninth swastika was found in New Hall.
Knapp took time to answer every question from students and parents concerning the spate of swastika drawings on campus and the racial epithet – “nigger” – which was written at the bottom of a New Hall poster advertising a black engineering group’s event.
“I earnestly hope we will know in the near future who is responsible, so that we can address the situation and understand the actions,” Knapp said. “We should not be surprised if there continue to be copycat responses to this. One of the things that is so terrible about things of this kind is they work – they do get our attention, they do cause fear, they do cause pain, they do cause confusion.”
On Friday, Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation was enlisted to aid in the investigation into the swastikas.
“This is not unusual,” Knapp said. “We want to draw on all experts and the FBI has obviously a lot of experience in these matters.”
Knapp said the motives behind these incidents must be determined before labeling the actions as “hate crimes.”
“It would be a feel good thing to do, but I can’t responsibly say it was a hate crime,” Knapp said. “I can’t say it was legally a hate crime.”
A member of the audience asked Knapp how he should answer friends from around the country who are worried about events at GW. The student asked Knapp what the University was doing to safeguard the student population.
“I would tell them every precaution is being taken to protect you, to protect your safety, to find out whoever did this and why it is being done,” Knapp said.
One student said many students he had spoken to considered this to be an act of drunken vandalism rather than a purposefully targeted hate crime. He asked Knapp why the administration saw these actions as dangerous.
“Some students are clearly hurt by this, as you have seen,” Knapp said. “This is the division in a community I was talking about . This is damaging to our reputation as a university even if we don’t take it seriously.”
Students expressed a general feeling of gratitude that Knapp attended and although they did not describe themselves as fearful, the situation still warranted the attention Knapp prescribed.
“Knapp’s attendance let people know the administration cares,” said freshman Daniel Rozenson. “I feel safe on campus. I mean, not to downgrade the seriousness of the situation, but no one has been physically threatened.” n
Eric Roper contributed to this report.