Dear Members of the George Washington University Community,
Earlier this year, the university learned of a letter filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alleging antisemitic discrimination and retaliation in a university course. As I shared in a message at that time, we launched a third-party investigation to thoroughly examine the allegations in this complaint.
I recognize that it has taken some time to provide you with an update on this matter, and I appreciate your patience as Crowell & Moring, the law firm conducting the investigation, worked carefully through this important process, interviewing nearly all individuals involved and reviewing the university’s actions and contemporaneous communications. I have felt a great sense of responsibility to ensure that this investigation was fair, impartial, and resulted in conclusions based only on facts identified during the review.
As the investigation was proceeding, many students, faculty, staff, and alumni who read about the allegations wrote or spoke to me directly, expressing concerns caused by the complaint. It pained me to learn of the impact this situation has had on our community, and I have spent many days reflecting on your perspectives.
Crowell & Moring has concluded its investigation, and the university is providing a summary of their investigative findings, including the finding that there was no evidence substantiating the discriminatory and retaliatory conduct alleged in the complaint. The investigators also noted that many allegations contained in the complaint and subsequently included in media reports were inaccurate or taken out of context and misrepresented.
After careful review, I believe the summary faithfully represents what the university learned through this third-party investigation. As we protect the privacy of our students and faculty, I do not plan to characterize or further elaborate on the specific findings. (A link to the summary is available below.)
I do want to be clear, in no uncertain terms, that the result of this investigation does not diminish or disregard the very real and present danger of antisemitism. In fact, we recognize with deep concern past incidents of antisemitism here at GW and on higher education campuses and elsewhere, in the D.C. region and across the nation, as well as the increased number of antisemitic incidents in U.S. society more widely in the past several years. I also acknowledge that after learning of these allegations, and after an investigation has concluded that there was no discriminatory conduct, some will find this result unexpected or even surprising.
The George Washington University unequivocally and strongly condemns antisemitism, Islamophobia, discrimination, and all forms of hate, and we must always work to ensure all feel secure and free of harassment, hostility, or marginalization. I never want anyone in our community to experience discrimination of any kind. I urge anyone who is the victim of discrimination or witnesses acts of discrimination in or out of the classroom to report the incident through the university’s established mechanisms. We will continue to thoroughly investigate credible allegations of such discrimination, and where appropriate, take forceful action to address it.
We are all part of a shared community interacting with one another at a preeminent institution of higher education in the nation’s capital. This community values diversity, reciprocal respect, equitable treatment of all, academic freedom, and freedom of expression—of all people, of all voices, and from all backgrounds and experiences. Together we explore difficult topics and sometimes passionately disagree. But we must always endeavor to do so with civility and empathy. Balancing these values is not easy, but it should remain our aspiration, and it should inform our thinking, understanding, and interactions. Being a part of this community is a great privilege, and it is a privilege that carries the responsibility to uphold the values we embrace.
There will always be more work to be done. In recent years, the university has undertaken initiatives to understand and improve the experiences of members of our community who have minoritized identities. We continue to have resources available for support, whether through the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement; Division for Student Affairs; Faculty Affairs; or Human Resources.
Looking forward, we will continue to work closely with our community members as well as campus and national partners to best support our Jewish and Arab communities. I have charged the university’s leadership with strengthening our orientation programs for students, faculty, and staff so they represent our community expectations, and we also plan to increase academic programming to engage constructively and civilly in dialogue on difficult issues. Additionally, we will review our policies and programs to ensure they meet the challenges presented by all forms of discrimination. I have consulted with the Chair of the Board of Trustees, and she is committed to the work needed to make the George Washington University a more inclusive and understanding place for all. University leadership will keep you informed of our progress and provide updates as they are available.
I understand there will be many reactions to the findings of this investigation. I hope I have been able to show the importance we placed on navigating these difficult matters with care, sensitivity, and fairness to all. And I hope you will join the university’s leadership and me in redoubling our commitment to our values as members of this shared community.
Mark S. Wrighton