Sara Brouda: Palestinian flag had no place at student walk-out

Like many students, the outcome of the U.S. presidential election not only upset me, but made me scared for the future of our country. When several prominent student organizations coordinated a walk-out one week after the election, I was excited to stand with my fellow classmates against a rising movement that legitimizes xenophobic, racist and hateful views. For me, the walk-out was meant to send the message that everyone is included and supported on campus.

Though I was strongly in support of what the walk-out stood for and was a proud participant myself, I was uncomfortable with some of the participants’ use of the Palestinian flag at the gathering in Kogan Plaza. The flag stood for a message that I did not agree with, and it hindered the walk-out’s goal of promoting equality. During a time of such divisiveness, it doesn’t make sense to further divide students at a rally that should have brought us together.

Students for Justice in Palestine had every right to support and co-sponsor the walk-out, but bringing the flag was a move that put an unrelated issue into focus and ostracized members of the community who supported the movement against President-elect Donald Trump’s policies and the rally’s demands but not SJP’s mission.

The flag is a symbol of an organization that can promote values that make other groups of students, especially Jewish students, feel unsafe and unwelcome. For many Israel advocates, the flag is representative of an active and mobilized group against their homeland and their values. Students shouldn’t have introduced this controversial symbol in a place where students were meant to feel safe.

There is a difference between standing in solidarity with social movements on campus for a greater purpose and actively promoting your own beliefs. SJP could have participated in the rally and supported the GW community at large, but instead, they used the flag to promote their own causes and not to unify students.

There wouldn’t be an issue with the flag if a student participant in the rally had brought it. But the flag was front and center and held by student leading the protest. Rather than sending a message against hate to University administrators and passersby, participants may have looked like they were allied with SJP.

GW posted a photo on Facebook and Twitter of the rally in Kogan Plaza with a clear view of the flag with the caption, “No hate, no fear. Everyone is welcome here.” In the photo, the flag was the most dominant image. There are a few anti-Trump signs and a few other flags, but none are quite as prominent.

This post by the University took a de facto political stance – a stance that many students disagree with. By sharing the picture and saying that there is no hate or fear related to the rally’s causes, GW is silencing students who disagree with the message the Palestinian flag sends.

An Israeli flag wouldn’t have belonged at the rally any more than the Palestinian one did. Both distract from the message that the student body stands against the hatred that came out of this election and the incoming U.S. presidential administration. Politicizing the event in this way made it more divisive than unifying.

The walk-out, which was supported by multiple student organizations, demonstrated that we are a strong community. But to have a truly supportive community, differing opinions need the same freedoms and protections. Moving forward, students need to actively work toward true solidarity that isn’t overshadowed with divisive causes.

Sara Brouda, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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