Interim University President Mark Wrighton is walking back comments he made last week condemning posters that appeared on campus criticizing the Chinese government, saying they are “political statements” and not examples of racism.
Several posters appeared in District House last week denouncing the Chinese government’s actions including its handling of the pandemic and its human rights abuses against the Uyghur people. Wrighton originally said officials would be taking down the posters but is now changing course, saying GW is not investigating the posters and emphasizing his support for freedom of speech.
Wrighton said in a statement Monday that the University’s responses to remove the posters were “mistakes.” He initially expressed “concern” about the posters in an email to a student who raised the issue with Wrighton and said the University would investigate the incident, which sparked criticism from the artist who created the posters and national academic freedom organizations.
“Upon full understanding, I do not view these posters as racist; they are political statements,” Wrighton said in the statement. “There is no University investigation underway, and the University will not take any action against the students who displayed the posters.”
Wrighton said he learned that the Chinese-Australian artist, Badiucao, designed the posters to protest against the Chinese Communist Party. He said he supports all students and faculty at GW who are researching and advocating against “all forms of discrimination, marginalization and oppression.
“I want to be very clear: I support freedom of speech – even when it offends people – and creative art is a valued way to communicate on important societal issues,” Wrighton said in the statement.
The GW Chinese Cultural Association called on officials to investigate the posters in a statement Sunday and asked for a public response from GW. The CCA specifically criticized one poster that they described as the “most outrageous,” showing a Chinese curler pushing a coronavirus molecule forward, an illustration they said could be linked to the increase of hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic.
“We reiterate that we believe in the freedom of expression of individuals and groups on the George Washington University campus,” the statement reads. “However, we do not regard misleading and offensive propaganda as within that scope. We oppose the politicization and suppression of our demands for equality and inclusion.”