Udated: May 28, 2015 at 8:53 p.m.
GW ended the suspension of the student who posted a swastika on his floor of International House in March, The Times of India reported Wednesday.
The member of the primarily Jewish fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau, was suspended and faced a possible expulsion from the University after he placed a gold swastika he brought back from a spring break trip to India on a bulletin board in International House. The student claimed the act was not an expression of hatred but was stillexpelled from the fraternity.
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar declined to confirm the ending of the student’s suspension, citing a GW policy not to comment on the results of individual student cases.
Harsh Voruganti, the associate director of public policy for the Hindu American Foundation, wrote a letter to University President Steven Knapp on behalf of his organization last month, saying the University’s suspension of the student alienates GW’s Hindu and Buddhist groups who may use a swastika symbol for religious purposes. Voruganti said he was asked to testify at the student’s disciplinary hearing with the University.
Voruganti, an alumnus of GW Law Schoool, said in an interview that GW made the right decision in ending the student’s suspension and not going forward with an expulsion because of the factors surrounding the case. He said the student obtained the symbol in India, where many people practice religions like Hinduism and Buddhism that may still use swastikas, and the student’s intentions with posting the symbol were unclear.
“I think that would have a very chilling effect for students who want to display the symbol for religious purposes,” Voruganti said.
GW law professor John Banzhaf said in an interview that GW could have been subject to legal liability if it had taken further disciplinary action against the student, including facing potential charges of defamation and false light. He said the case could be considered religious discrimination because the student could have posted the symbol with the intention of educating the community about its religious significance.
“It seems very clear that expelling him would be a violation of local and federal law,” Banzhaf said.
The incident occurred after three swastikas were reportedly drawn on the walls of International House in February, causing members of GW’s Jewish community to become concerned for their safety. Knapp released a statement after the first incident saying both cases would be investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department as hate crimes.