A protest broke out at the second commencement ceremony for the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Saturday.
Graduating senior and sexual assault survivor Aniqa Raihan led a protest at the ceremony in response to her assailant being able to graduate alongside her. Three students rolled out a banner reading “GW Protects Rapists,” as Raihan’s assailant’s name was called and he walked across the stage.
Raihan said that she felt it was unfair for her to have to watch her assailant walk across the stage and receive his diploma after hundreds of students sent emails to the University administration and thousands signed a petition calling for his expulsion.
“We are here to make sure that if nothing else, our voice is still heard,” Raihan said.
Raihan learned the outcome of her case at the end of March, where her assailant received deferred suspension for sexual violence – a punishment that allowed him to stay at GW if he followed the instructions given to him in an outcome letter and did not violate another University policy.
Almost a week later, she led an email campaign to terminate the employment of her assailant as a student manager at the Lerner Health and Wellness Center. After the start of this email petition, the University said that they would not expel nor terminate the employment of the assailant.
Raihan and SASA leaders led a group of students to protest the employment of the assailant last month. They delivered the list of names from the petition to both administrators at HelWell and Peter Konwerski, the dean of student affairs.
After several minutes with the banner hanging over the risers, one University Police Department officer said that they needed to take down the banner, Raihan said. She said that she and the two other students helping her hold the banner told the officer that they were going to stay and leave the banner up.
Raihan said that the UPD officer told her that he would take the protesters away in handcuffs if they did not cooperate. She said she asked the officer if he was going to arrest them, and that he allegedly responded with, “I have no problem with that.”
She said that the officer told her that he would call his sergeant and that when she arrived, they would be arrested. When the sergeant arrived, the protesters removed the sign, Raihan said.
Multiple people tried to tear the banner out of her hands and told her that she was “ruining graduation” and being “inappropriate,” she said.
After leaving the Smith Center, where the commencement ceremony was still going on, the group moved to the front of Funger Hall to continue their protest.
Raihan said that letting her assailant graduate will tarnish GW’s reputation in the long-run.
“The clock was ticking from the day the petition went public and they had a month and a half,” she said. “The clock has run out and GW will forever be on the wrong side of this, and I’m sure that people will forget it, but this is a stain on GW’s history forever.”
Junior Kei Pritsker participated in the protest and helped hold the banner that hung in the Smith Center. Pritsker said that he was hounded by staff and bystander families telling him to take down the sign.
“They tried to rip it out of my hands,” Pritsker said.
Salma Makkar, another student who held the banner, said that she hopes the statement made an impression on the audience and administrators.
“If they were going to let him graduate, let’s at least make a statement,” she said.
Jocelyn Jacoby, the former co-president of SASA, said that the entire graduating class from the women’s gender and sexuality studies department stood in solidarity with Raihan and her campaign as they held a banner with “IX” written on it to represent Title IX during the ceremony.
She said holding the banner meant they didn’t have to watch the assailant graduate.
“We didn’t want to watch him graduate so I was glad to have him covered. I didn’t want to see him cross the stage,” Jacoby said. “He doesn’t deserve to cross the same stage that people who don’t sexually assault others do.”
Hana Buckholz, a graduating senior and anthropology major in CCAS, said that she hopes the University will respond and take action after the protest.
“I didn’t expect it,” Buckholz said. “But I thought it was really brave and a bold move.”