Liberal student groups should have shown support for YAF after anti-Muslim poster incident

The liberal bias of GW has long been a topic of contention and debate on campus. The overwhelming liberalness of student organizations and faculty members creates an uncomfortable environment for students who don’t subscribe to the same beliefs. Although the political and activist atmosphere of the University is why many students — including someone like me who identifies with the center-left — decided to come to the nation’s capital, GW has a long way to go to ensure diversity of thought among the student body. The division was exacerbated earlier this month when disgusting, Islamophobic posters depicting Muslims as having “lasers in their eyes” and “Peg legs for smuggling children” were placed around campus.

These posters attempted to frame the conservative student group, Young America’s Foundation, for creating and hanging them. This act is yet another example of the ostracization of conservatives on campus. The same posters were also posted on campus and pinned to YAF in 2007. YAF should feel as accepted and included on campus as the plethora of pro-choice, progressive and liberal campus organizations. Liberal groups need to stand with conservatives when they are unfairly attacked by sending messages of support and solidarity, and the University must make it clear through actions and strongly worded statements that they do not tolerate attempts of any kind to silence political groups for their legitimate views.

Demonstrations, statements and articles from liberals would have all been welcome pathways to reaching out.

After an incident like this, words matter. YAF’s GW chapter asked the administration to “finally take a stand for conservative students who are continually the targets of acts of harassment, vandalism and defamation from liberal students.” National YAF forcefully condemned the denigration of a religion to make a political point in a statement on their social media accounts, noting that “once again, the only hate on GW’s campus is coming from the left.”

This, of course, is not the whole truth. Hate exists on all sides of the political spectrum and this was certainly not the moment for political attacks. But the statement condemning the islamophobic posters highlighting the lack of conservative empowerment on campus and asking University administrators to more forcefully advocate their interests does have a less overtly political tone. But an even more effective message following this incident would have been a joint statement between liberal and conservative groups condemning the posters and standing up for political expression without expressing hate against the other side.

Administrators had searing words of condemnation for the vandals, saying in a statement that students should work to make others feel safe on campus and should respect others regardless of their political opinions. But no such words can be attributed to College Democrats, Progressive Student Union, the Feminist Student Union or any other left-leaning group on campus. The silence from groups that pride themselves on standing up for minorities against attacks from President Donald Trump have suddenly fell silent when the same attacks are levied against conservatives.

This silence is deafening. I cannot think of a more powerful symbol of unity and cohesion than if liberals had stood up as strongly as YAF did and condemned these posters as strongly as their conservative adversaries. Demonstrations, statements and articles from liberals would have all been welcome pathways to reaching out, regardless of whether these groups were directly responsible, but instead what we got was nothing. This lack of response can be seen in no other way than complicit support for attacks on conservatives. Simply reaching out with messages of support would have gone a long way in mending the divide and showing right-leaning students that they are welcome.

Despite our ideological divides, incidents such as religious attacks on fellow students certainly merit a unified and coherent response.

Administrators also have a critical role to play in this regard. The lack of concrete action, outside of a simple statement, to foster a more open and comfortable campus culture for all students after these posters were removed demonstrates the intrinsic foreignness of conservatives on campus. One statement posted online does little to ensure students that the University will never stand for attacks against others. GW should have focused more on the overtly political nature of these attacks and reached out to conservative groups for input on how to move forward. There could have been panels with students from all sides to discuss ways to create a more welcoming environment, in addition to the bipartisan panels the school already hosts. This would also be a way to ensure that professors, who should attend these panels as well, are more receptive to new ideologies, which would truly create a new kind of campus culture.

Despite our ideological divides, incidents such as religious attacks on fellow students certainly merit a unified and coherent response. The national YAF shouldn’t have used this instance to attack liberals to score political points. At the same time, liberal students should have remembered what a truly liberal society looks like: a world in which everyone is free to profess beliefs and be safe from violent retribution for doing so.

Henry Bartman, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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