Dozens of students marched from Kogan Plaza to the F Street House Friday after a Palestinian rights advocacy group alleged officials shut down a “virtual processing space” for Palestinian students in the wake of violence in Gaza.
The protest comes nearly two weeks after Palestine Legal sent the University a complaint filed in D.C.’s Office for Human Rights, which alleges officials called an emergency meeting before instructing the Office of Advocacy and Support to take down information about a “virtual processing space” for Palestinian students in June. About 50 protesters calling for Palestinian freedom carried signs reading “Protect Palestinian Students” as they denounced what they consider racism within the administration and pressured officials to grant mental health services through OAS.
Rani Al-Hindi, a GW Law student who is Palestinian-American, delivered a speech in Kogan Plaza before protesters marched to the F Street House, University President Thomas LeBlanc’s on-campus residence.
“The fact that the mental health of Palestinians is even being scrutinized against, is being used as a tool of oppression and is being weaponized to marginalize students here on campus is something alarming and dangerous,” he said during his speech. “Mental health is something really basic. It’s a basic human right that everyone should be afforded.”
Al-Hindi said the University has rejected student demands to divest from companies that allegedly contribute to Palestinian human rights abuses, and he encouraged other protesters to call on administrators to end its “support to Israeli apartheid.”
The Student Association Senate passed a resolution in April 2018 demanding that GW withdraw its holdings from nine companies that sell weapons and other services to the Israeli government. LeBlanc rejected the proposal the next day, saying that the resolution does not represent the University’s views.
Al-Hindi said GW shouldn’t interfere with OAS’ operations and must ensure all students have reliable support from the University.
“Palestinian students, like every other group of students, deserve to receive support, deserve to have their struggle recognized and deserve to call out oppression for what it is,” he said.
After marching to the F Street House, the group then moved toward the Elliott School of International Affairs, but they returned to Kogan Plaza after a GW Police Department officer turned the protesters away.
University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said in a statement last week that the University received the complaint from Palestine Legal and will investigate the concerns.
“GW is committed toward diversity, equity and inclusion and to maintaining a nondiscriminatory work and educational environment,” she said in an email. “We have received the letter from Palestine Legal and the concerns raised there will be investigated.”
The civil rights complaint also alleges officials directed Students Against Sexual Assault to delete a similar statement offering support to Palestinian students in June, the same month the OAS post was taken down. SASA promoted the protest on its Instagram story last week, along with a statement accusing administrators of “discrimination” by restricting OAS’ mental health resources from all student groups.
“@gwuniversity preventing @gw_oas from holding space for Palestinian students to process harm is unacceptable,” the post read. “In the past OAS has held similar spaces for ALL marginalized groups on campus experiencing harm without University interference.”
Rachel Krumholz, a junior and member of Jewish Voice for Peace at GW, said she was marching to support eight demands of the University outlined in the Palestine Legal complaint, which include an apology from officials and a reimplementation of the Palestinian healing space.
“President LeBlanc has been completely silent about this — he has not yet responded,” she said. “We want a response from President LeBlanc, responses from GW administration.”
Gabe Friedman, a freshman and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, said he felt he needed to be involved in the march after Palestine Legal released the complaint. He said he was proud of the turnout at the protest, and he hopes it signifies an increase of advocacy for Palestine.
“I think that people showing up today shows that the tides are turning, and that they’re turning toward justice for Palestine,” he said.
Abby Kennedy contributed reporting.