GWU Suspends Jewish Student for Hindu Swastika Souvenir, Calls it a ‘Hate Crime’

April 29, 2015

By Ashley Dobson at Red Alert Politics

Learning outside of class and free expression is apparently frowned upon at George Washington University.

GWU has suspended  a Jewish student for placing a souvenir Hindu swastika obtained on a trip to India on his residence hall’s bulletin board, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Here’s the back story from FIRE:

“On March 16, the student placed a small, bronze, Indian swastika on a bulletin board at GWU’s International House residence hall. He intended to educate his friends and co-residents about the symbol’s origins, which he learned about during a spring break trip to India. The student had learned on his trip that although the swastika was appropriated by Nazi Germany, it has an ancient history in many cultures as a symbol of good luck and success.

After a fellow student reported the swastika to the GWU police department, the university quickly suspended the student and evicted him from university housing, pending the outcome of five disciplinary charges. The university also referred the incident to the District of Columbia police for investigation as a potential “hate crime.”

“GWU may not ignore thousands of years of history and effectively forbid all uses of the swastika because it was used by Nazi Germany,” said FIRE Program Officer and attorney Ari Cohn. “It’s ironic that the charges against the student illustrate the very point he was trying to make in the first place—that context is important and there’s much to be learned about the history of the swastika.”

Prior to the student’s ordeal, International House had recently been the target of an unidentified vandal who drew three swastikas on the walls. In light of this vandalism, the student—himself Jewish—thought that educating his predominantly Jewish brothers in the Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) fraternity living at International House about the swastika’s ancient roots would be empowering.

After posting the swastika, the student stayed close to the bulletin board in order to discuss it with observers. He briefly stepped away, however, and a member of the student’s fraternity saw the swastika and called GWU’s campus police, who filed a report and took the item as evidence. When the student found out the police had been called, he immediately claimed responsibility and attempted to clarify his intent.”

Following the incident, GWU told the student that he faced five disciplinary charges and would be suspended until they could be settled. These included temporary eviction from university housing, suspension from class and university activities, and a prohibition from stepping foot on campus property.

FIRE, along with the student’s lawyers and the Hindu American Foundation, have fought to get this punishment overturned.

FIRE wrote to GWU President Steven Knapp reminding them that even if this was a Nazi swastika, it would receive First Amendment protection. They also explained that punishing him for a  misinterpretation of his expressive activity is the exact opposite of higher education’s supposed intent.

So far, GWU has refused to consider the case or to discuss it with FIRE.

Schools: George Washington University