GWU President Apologizes to Student Threatened for Hanging Palestinian Flag; Student Group Will Hold Protest

December 11, 2015

The president of George Washington University (GWU) has issued a personal apology to Ramie Abounaja, the GWU student who was forced to remove a Palestinian flag from his dormitory room window by university police and then threatened with disciplinary action by the university for displaying it.

GWU President Peter Knapp issued the statement yesterday. In it, he explained that the October 26 incident was sparked by someone reporting the flag to the GWU police department. An officer told the student to remove the flag, as hanging objects outside dormitory windows is against university policy. “That should have been the end of the matter,” Knapp wrote. But when the officer reported the incident, a “flawed process” resulted in Abounaja getting a warning letter from GWU:

The student was understandably alarmed and believed that the warning was based on the fact that the object he had hung from his window was a Palestinian flag. That was not the case, but, again, it was perfectly understandable that the student would interpret the letter in the way he did.

I have instructed the relevant offices to end the practice of sending warning letters to students solely because of a reported violation of a university policy. I have also instructed them to ensure consistent enforcement of all university policies.

At the same time, I have personally apologized to the student for this unfortunate incident and assured him that the university’s actions were in no way a response to his expression of his beliefs or opinions.  

A student protest planned for this afternoon, asking students to carry flags to express solidarity with Abounaja, will still take place despite the apology. One of the event organizers, Tarek Abdel Kouddous, said via the group’s Facebook page that while he was “very pleased” with Knapp’s statement, it didn’t go far enough:

Although GW did not explicitly target Ramie’s Palestinian flag, the institution’s policing structure facilitated the intolerance of certain members of the GW community. We are all aware that the average passerby is not aware or concerned with housing regulations, which suggests that the complaints were made on the basis of intolerance.

We will not be silent until the GW community recognizes these realities.

FIRE will cover the event, and we commend GWU for acknowledging its errors in this case.

Schools:  George Washington University