GWU Urged to Revoke Jewish Student’s Suspension

April 30, 2015

By PTI at India Tribune

A prominent student rights’ group, along with the student’s attorneys and the Hindu American Foundation, urged the George Washington University to revoke suspension of the Jewish student for placing a souvenir Hindu swastika obtained on a trip to India on his residence hall’s bulletin board.

“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 Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which defends and sustains individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.

“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,”  FIRE Program Officer and attorney Ari Cohn said.

On March 16, the student placed a small, bronze, Indian swastika (a sacred symbol for Hindus and Buddhists) 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 media release said.

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, the media note said.

After a fellow student reported the swastika to the GWU police department, the university allegedly 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.”

FIRE wrote to GWU President Steven Knapp on March 27, calling on the university to immediately drop the charges against the student.

FIRE reminded GWU that not only was the swastika in question indisputably not a Nazi swastika, but even Nazi swastikas receive First Amendment protection.

FIRE’s letter further explained that punishing the student because of the misinterpretation of his expressive activity is anathema to the purpose and values of an institution of higher education.

“GWU must honour its explicit promises of freedom of expression,” said Cohn.

“These charges contradict those promises and do great harm to the robust, open debate from which a university derives intellectual vitality.

“The university must end its senseless disregard of context, drop all charges, and make good on its word,” he said.

The university has refused to comment on the case, but said there is no move to ban the religious symbol.

“We do not comment on the specifics of individual student cases. The university follows an established process for responding to such matters as outlined in the Code of Student Conduct,” said George Washington University’s Office of Media Relations.

“The university has not banned nor is it attempting to ban religious symbols. Student organisations and individual students are free to examine and to discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinions publicly and privately,” the university said in a statement.

“They are free to support causes by orderly means that do not disrupt the regular and essential operation of the institution,” it said.

Schools: George Washington University