George Washington (where I teach at the law school) has become the focus of national attention due to a letter sent out by a collection of student groups that declared the security supplied by campus police to be an “act of violence” because police are viewed as supporting President-elect Donald Trump. It is an absurd and insulting position — part of a tirade by the groups calling for everything from providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants to breaking down patriarchy, Islamophobia, and a myriad of other social ills. The deep sense of community and societal concerns reflected in the letter is a good thing and something that this university has always fostered. However, the gratuitous slap at our campus police is neither productive nor warranted.
The letter reflects the contributions of a wide array of groups, including Young Progressives Demanding Action GW, the Feminist Student Union, the Roosevelt Institute, Progressive Student Union, Students for Justice in Palestine, Green GW, Fossil Free GW, GroW Community, Casa Blanca, the Theta Chapter of Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad/Lambda Pi Chi Sorority, inc., Asian Pacific Islander Student Alliance Advocacy Committee, and the Association of Queer Women and Allies. It is important to note that this is just a relatively small fraction of the many groups at GWU.
As for GW campus police, the groups tied all officers to the organizational support of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) for Donald Trump. Accordingly, the groups insists that “placing us in these officers’ care is an act of violence, especially for Black students.” Not only do the students demand that they be protected from campus security but that the university respond to this problem by increasing financial aid, discretionary funds, and other support for minority and low income students.
The connection drawn between the FOP and the campus security is facially ridiculous. These students are seeking to isolate officers based on their perceived support for a democratically elected president. The “act of violence” is the simple maintenance of a security staff for the university. None of these organizations appear to recognize the implications of barring employees from supplying services based on their presumed political leanings. These are the same groups that later in the letter demand that the university guarantee the rights of campus workers to organize and make demands. Yet, due to their perceived political beliefs, these workers are to be treated as objectified vehicles of oppression and violence:
“safety must not depend on the University’s police. The Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the United States, has formally endorsed President-Elect Donald Trump. The FOP includes over 10,000 members in Washington D.C., many of which have jurisdiction over GW’s campus. Placing us in these officers’ care is an act of violence, especially for Black students.”
In addition to demanding that the university become a sanctuary for undocumented persons, the letter demands other commitments like the university recognizing “white supremacy” and how “The 2016 presidential election has emboldened the structures of oppression that are embedded in our country at all social, political, and economic levels.”
The demands also include greater protections and admissions for Palestinian students “to prevent their genocide at the hands of Israel” and the university supplying job training and community centers in Washington, D.C. as well as facilities for the homeless.
The tragic irony is that we have long had one of the most responsive and supportive security forces in the country. I have worked with campus security in a volunteer program teaching elementary students about the law. These officers operate in a high crime area and try hard to protect the faculty and students from harm. They deserve better than this unhinged tirade. I am confident that the professionals working for the university will not be affected by this letter. They will continue to do their jobs and protect all students and faculty. However, they should know that many of us appreciate their hard work and dedication.
The call for the university to subsidize various social programs for the homeless, undocumented, and other groups ignores our primary educational mission. We remain one of the most expensive schools in the country. In addition to the demand for more financial aid and discretionary funds, the supply of housing, training, and shelter services would impose tremendous costs of students who already face towering tuition debt. GW has a long history of community outreach and activism. Yet, we remain at our core an educational institutional with a duty to our students to supply an education at an affordable cost.
I am glad to see activism and passion from our students. These are issues worthy of debate. However, this letter seems more visceral and sensational than constructive in my opinion.
What do you think?
Here is the letter: