Message Regarding the Ongoing Campus Protests

May 5, 2024

A message from President Ellen M. Granberg

Dear Members of the George Washington University Community,

It has been over a week since a group of students established an unauthorized protest encampment on GW's University Yard. Since then, there have been many conversations about students' rights to free expression and assembly and whether this is a peaceful protest. In this message, I want to directly address those conversations, share what we are experiencing on campus, and outline our desired outcomes moving forward. 

Before I begin, I want to make clear that I believe the issues at the heart of this protest are important and deserve our full attention and consideration. There is a dire humanitarian crisis occurring in Gaza that must be addressed, and I am personally grief-stricken by the suffering and loss of innocent lives occurring on both sides of this conflict. I fully support and encourage our community to speak out and engage in controversial and critical dialogues on these crucial issues—as long as they occur within the limits of our university's policies and the District's laws. However, what is currently happening at GW is not a peaceful protest protected by the First Amendment or our university’s policies. The demonstration, like many around the country, has grown into what can only be classified as an illegal and potentially dangerous occupation of GW property. 

History has repeatedly shown that there are many effective ways for communities to express their differing viewpoints lawfully within the District of Columbia. In the last seven months alone, at GW, we have seen this play out on all sides of the war between Israel and Hamas. I know that some in our community and others across the country argue that this, too, is simply a peaceful protest – and, at certain times, this has been true. However, when protesters overrun barriers established to protect the community, vandalize a university statue and flag, surround and intimidate GW students with antisemitic images and hateful rhetoric, chase people out of a public yard based on their perceived beliefs, and ignore, degrade, and push GW Police Officers and university maintenance staff, the protest ceases to be peaceful or productive. All of these things have happened at GW in the last five days. 

It is also essential to highlight that at no point was this encampment lawful. From the moment GW students declared their intent to establish an encampment on University Yard, they were in direct violation of multiple university policies and were trespassing on a space explicitly reserved for the GW Law final examinations. The university, which is committed to protecting our students' rights to free expression, informed them of this and quickly offered a secure alternative protest site where GW would support them in holding peaceful daytime demonstrations. This offer was repeatedly refused.

Finally, it is clear that this is no longer a GW student demonstration. It has been co-opted by individuals who are largely unaffiliated with our community and do not have our community's best interest in mind. It is increasingly unsafe and a violation of university and city regulations to have so many unidentified and unvetted people from outside the GW community living on university property. 

Conventional protests that abide by municipal law and university policy should and do receive protection and respect, no matter the message's viewpoint. As I have outlined, this is not what is happening at GW.

For these reasons, the George Washington University continues to tirelessly pursue every avenue available to resolve the situation swiftly and safely. We have offered an alternative demonstration site, requested the assistance of the DC Metropolitan Police Department, erected barriers to contain the protest, initiated academic and administrative consequences for trespassing GW students, expanded our security resources and personnel, and conducted regular and sustained dialogues with GW students connected to the camp. So far, all of these efforts have failed to end the encampment or deter the protesters from escalating the situation.  

As a university, we are not equipped to single-handedly manage an unprecedented situation such as this. The GW police force is, and should only be, prepared to protect our community during normal university operations and to respond to routine and urgent incidents. When unlawful activities go beyond these limits, we must rely on the support and experience of the DC Metropolitan Police Department. At this time, the District is in communication with the university, and the DC Metropolitan Police are providing an increased security presence on and around University Yard.

I understand and fully share the deep concern many feel about the status of the protest. Many are frustrated that it is continuing; some are willing for it to proceed indefinitely. At GW, our commitment remains to regain and maintain the safety and security of University Yard, pursue accountability for those who have destroyed university property and harassed our community, and return our university to normal operations. This includes, of course, allowing and promoting the free exercise of various viewpoints and means of expression by members of our community within the limits of university policies. We continue to ask for the full support of our partners, including the District of Columbia, in pursuing these aims. 


Ellen M. Granberg