GW Leaders Communicate with Students on Political Unity

President Steven Knapp and Provost Forrest Maltzman will come together for a town hall with students Tuesday to talk about the climate on campus.

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GW students participate in a post-election protest on Nov. 15. Hundreds of students marched from Kogan Plaza to the White House. (Logan Werlinger/ GW Today)
November 28, 2016

By Kristen Mitchell

Following a tumultuous presidential campaign that ended with the surprising election of Republican Donald Trump, many students are still grappling with the unknown of how life will be under a president who they say used divisive rhetoric to win the White House.

Across George Washington University, administrators, deans and leaders have been meeting with students to discuss moving forward under the current political climate and supporting students in the process.

George Washington President Steven Knapp and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Forrest Maltzman have met with students to discuss their concerns following a protest on Nov. 15 where hundreds of students gathered in Kogan Plaza and marched to the White House. They plan to continue the discussions at a university-wide town hall, sponsored by the Student Association, at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom.

During the protest students carried signs and chanted to express their desire for a country and president that serves all Americans and is devoid of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and bigotry.

Student leaders delivered a call to action to administrators in Rice Hall at the end of the protest, presenting them with a list of things they want to be done on campus. They asked the university to release a statement detailing its commitment to students of color, that GW be a sanctuary for undocumented students and workers and that the university protect students facing digital, physical and verbal harassment, among other things.

Dr. Knapp said in 30 years at three institutions, he has been struck by the thoughtful, respectful and mature approach GW students take in addressing issues that concern them.

“I hope the provost and I, together with the other administrators who joined the meeting, were able to assure the student leaders with whom we met that GW's commitment to diversity, civility and sustainability and civility is strong and will remain so,” he said.

Dr. Knapp released a message to the GW community the day after the election, saying civil discourse is a hallmark of life on GW’s campuses. On Monday, he joined more than 180 college and university presidents across the country to show support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program.

DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive exemption from deportation.

Dr. Maltzman said classrooms and school forums have provided an important opportunity for members of the GW community to talk about their anxiety produced by the political climate.

"I appreciate that so many members of the community have made clear that the university's commitment to diversity, free speech and the success of all who enroll is as strong as ever,” he said.

Many university leaders have released messages encouraging unity, compassion and conversation in the aftermath of the election.

After the student demonstration, the GW College Republicans in a statement said they were saddened by the divisions within the GW community and that all students deserve respect, regardless of their political affiliation.

Many of the deans and directors of the schools at GW issued statements and met with students, faculty and staff to listen to concerns, to reiterate the values of the university and to discuss ways the GW community could support its students. Town halls were hosted by the deans in a number of schools and programs, including the Elliott School of International Affairs, the School of Law and the Milken Institute School of Public Health. 

In a Thanksgiving message to the faculty within the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Dean Michael Feuer highlighted the importance of “learning, respect and the advancement of opportunity” in light of the national political climate that exists.

Dean Jeffrey Akman, in a statement sent to the School of Medicine and Health Sciences community, took the opportunity to “celebrate the fact that we are a diverse community of healers, educators, discoverers, and learners, from all political parties, motivated by a calling to service and an unselfish concern for the welfare of others. We are a community built on mutual respect and compassion.”

CCAS Dean Ben Vinson III said as a historian, he remembers during difficult times that the United States is resilient. The country has weathered constitutional crises, civil strife and two World Wars, Dr. Vinson said, and this historic moment allows GW students, faculty and staff to engage in conversations about the future of the country.

“We are proud of the civic activism of our students, but we also understand the need to be respectful of the rights of others to express opinions that may diverge from our own,” he said. “We must sustain that healthy tradition of discourse across the aisles. For those of you who feel excluded from the conversation or who are having difficulty grappling with the context of recent events, I invite you to take advantage of the counseling services available within the university.”