When Student Association leaders called off a contentious senate meeting Monday, they felt student safety concerns were being ignored because campus security officials refused to post police in the meeting room.
But a day after the meeting was shut down, SA leaders said they discovered University Police Department officials had decided to increase security for the event and planned to monitor the meeting – but none of that information had been shared with them.
Just 10 minutes before the meeting was set to begin, SA Senate leaders canceled a controversial vote on a resolution that would have called for the University to divest from nine companies that allegedly contribute to Palestinian human rights abuses. At the time, SA leaders said UPD officers had repeatedly declined to provide needed security for the debate – but they later discovered additional security was already in place for the event, but the plan hadn’t been communicated to them.
Executive Vice President Sydney Nelson said SA leaders requested increased security for the event about three weeks before the resolution was set to hit the senate floor, given the nature and expected turnout for the meeting. Ahead of the event, SA leaders were repeatedly told that UPD would not have an increased police presence outside of the meeting – something they later found to be false, she said.
Nelson said Anne Graham, the assistant director of student involvement and Greek life and the SA’s adviser, was responsible for communicating safety concerns with UPD, but she did not tell student leaders that increased security would be provided before the meeting was called off. She said at 8 p.m., three officers came to Funger Hall to meet with senate staff to talk about “heightened patrolling” for the evening – but the meeting had already been canceled.
In emails and texts to student leaders ahead of the meeting, which were obtained by The Hatchet, Graham repeatedly said no additional security would be provided for the event.
“We were operating under the assumption that the patrolling would be usual and our requests were being denied – which I think, you see, doesn’t quite match what should have been explained to us,” Nelson said.
Several students on both sides of the resolution voiced security concerns Monday after posters were found around campus targeting proponents of the resolution. Following the cancellation of the senate meeting, dozens of Palestinian students and supporters hosted a sit-in outside of the SA offices, saying they were frustrated with the cancellation because Palestinian students were not given an opportunity to engage in dialogue about a sensitive topic.
Nelson said safety threats escalated 24 hours before the SA was scheduled when students saw men in ski masks posting the threatening signs on campus, and the next day, SA leaders received threatening emails from anonymous servers comparing senators to Nazis.
“We did not want students, Palestinian students, senators, anyone from any side to feel threatened in that space,” Nelson said. “I think that’s something we felt was going to happen, at least that perceived feeling.”
Nelson said the SA would no longer use Graham to relay concerns to UPD but instead make security requests directly to Darrell Darnell, the senior associate vice president for safety and security. She said the senate is holding a meeting Monday to debate the resolution and already has increased security detail in place.
She added that even though UPD did plan to increase patrolling in the area at Monday’s meeting, officials still declined to post an officer at Funger Hall as students requested because they deemed there was no direct threat of physical harm.
“There are still portions of the University that failed to validate its students’ safety concerns last night,” Nelson said in an interview Tuesday.
University spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said Graham worked with SA leaders to ensure that a “plan was in place to run a safe and productive meeting” prior to the meeting’s cancellation. She said UPD officers were monitoring activity and reports related to the meeting and found “no credible physical threat” to the meeting.
“Officers were patrolling in the area, monitoring security cameras and on-site when the meeting was scheduled to begin,” Hamilton said in an email. “GWPD received reports of inflammatory signs on campus and conducted an investigation, again finding no credible threat directed at the meeting. GWPD is continuing to monitor the situation.”
She said officials met with SA leaders Tuesday and confirmed that UPD will be present at the upcoming senate meeting, but security plans are still being worked out.
“The University is always mindful of security on campus and making students feel safe,” she said.
Hamilton declined to say if UPD would check bags or give pat-downs at the next meeting.
Divest this Time at GW, a student-led campaign that is lobbying for the divestment resolution, drafted a set of six demands during the SA office sit-in, including a full UPD detail with ID and bag checks at the next senate meeting, a secret paper ballot for senators to vote on the resolution and guaranteed seating for supporters of the resolution.
Divest this Time also posted a petition on their Facebook page where students can support the security demands.
Tyler Katz, a member of Divest this Time, said the petition has garnered 90 signatures in the first 24 hours since the post. They said members of Divest this Time do not anticipate that any of the demands listed will go unmet, and members have been in talks with UPD and SA leaders to outline how each demand will be addressed at the next senate meeting.
“If those most pertinent ones are not met, that would be the greatest concern for which we would have the greatest preparation and plan,” Katz said, referring to security requests like bag and ID checks.