GW students question validity of pro-Trump opinions
- Tensions ran high at The George Washington University during a “Campus Climate Town Hall” intended to allow students to air their concerns about Donald Trump’s election.
- Numerous attendees questioned the purpose of having a community conversation, arguing that academic freedom should not mean having to engage with "thoughts that are racist, or misogynist, or anti-Semitic."
- At one point, a GW professor even scoffed at a student's assertion that he was afraid to voice his conservative beliefs in the classroom, saying such views are "moral transgressions."
Tensions ran high at The George Washington University during a “Campus Climate Town Hall” intended to allow students to air their concerns about Donald Trump’s election.
The panel, which included GWU President Steven Knapp and several other high-ranking administrators, fielded questions from concerned and angry students, many of whom fear they will be directly and deleteriously affected by the policies put in place by the incoming Trump administration.
One student, for instance, expressed her difficulty in keeping up with academics after the election, asking, “How do we move on and still go to classes?”
“I’ve had some professors who have been understanding in how much of a personal and emotional toll this has taken, but there are other professors who don’t get it, or who are moving on with business as usual,” she explained. “I know that different professors are doing different things, accommodating changing syllabi, but not everyone is doing that.”
Another student relayed his unease regarding a university-wide walkout and protest that took place earlier this month and concluded with the issuance of a multi-point ultimatum demanding, among other things, that GW become a “sanctuary campus” that protects illegal immigrant students from federal deportation efforts.
“I felt somewhat unsettled by the vigil spectacle—it was quite different from the flattering photo on the GW website that was emailed to us,” he declared flatly. “What I noticed was the leaders of the march were wearing these black jackets, red stickers, red armbands.”
Noting that the ensemble bears “an unsubtle similarity to Intifada activists”—whom he “saw equivalents to in Europe who were genuinely threatening, damaging property among other things, and attacking police”—he remarked that this was “something I thought would have been more noteworthy than all this nebulous concept of dangerous thought.”
Conversely, a student affiliated with the Students Against Sexual Assault group took exception to the tendency to make light of student demands for protection against unwelcome opinions, calling it a widespread problem.
“I think there’s a problem with making fun of phrases like safe spaces and trigger warnings,” the student declared, complaining that “even among professors in classes you hear jokes and quips about it.”
At one point, while proudly discussing his decision to join hundreds of other college presidents in signing a petition encouraging Trump to extend DACA, President Knapp was interrupted by a member of the student group Fossil Free GW.
“And what if they don’t extend DACA, because they probably won’t, so what happens then?” he interrupted, neglecting to even wait for a response before asking, “Are you going to sign onto the sanctuary campus program?”
Knapp replied that the administration is weighing several options, while Provost Forrest Maltzman pointed out that GW’s admissions policy does not require applicants to submit proof of U.S. citizenship, saying, “we aid people regardless of their citizenship”.
Later, a conservative student voiced concerns about a professor in GW’s Corcoran School of Art and Design who suggested using GW resources to print posters and provide bathroom access for anti-Trump protests, which Maltzman clarified is against university policy.
The student also told administrators about his fear of sharing his political beliefs in the classroom because they conflict with the orthodox liberal views prevalent among classmates and professors, but English professor and Director of Africana Studies Jennifer James flippantly rejected the notion that viewpoint discrimination might be an issue for conservative students.
“I am troubled by the idea that this is simply about different opinions, that it’s just about having different points of views, that racism and anti-Semitism and misogyny articulated by and embodied by this president are not moral transgressions that are aimed violently at particular bodies,” James declared.
When asked by Knapp how she handles disagreements with students, James replied that “I listen,” but quickly clarified that this “doesn’t mean that the students who are targeted by thoughts that are racist, or misogynist, or anti-Semitic don’t feel threatened.”
She went on to assert that those who hold such prejudices “tend to be students who are, by gender or race, in positions of power,” and that the presidential election “has created an environment that has legitimized that kind of discourse and the ‘two sides’ language and rhetoric makes it seem that much more normal.”
Another conservative student disputed James’ contentions, asking the administrators on stage how they could “stand here and let that professor make a judgement about a student,” particularly when it only served to reinforce the original claim of anti-conservative bias.
“I’m not comfortable speaking in class because of what professors will think about me as a conservative,” the student asserted. “But you let a professor stand here and say things ‘All trump supporters are x-y- z; xenophobic, racist, homophobic,’ and that’s not true.”
Tensions mounted further when another student took the microphone, overcome with anger, to declare that “dialogue” is meaningless if it means having to confront conflicting perspectives.
“I’m just gonna say it. If you think having a dialogue is going to fix these issues, you are woefully naïve,” she sputtered. “To tell me that when someone’s political opinion—that they’re feeling oppressed by their political opinion because is not being valued right now—we have people whose entire existence is not being valued right now. And quite frankly, I don’t want to have a conversation with a Trump supporter, who spews racism on this campus.”
The student then angrily stormed out of the forum.
The Fossil Free GW member then followed up by demanding to know why students should take the administration’s efforts to have an open dialogue seriously when no action was taken following a student discussion and vote to divest from fossil fuels.
Knapp assured the student that the divestment issue is still being discussed by the Board of Trustees, but also chided the student for his premise, remarking, “I trust you’re not saying that the result of the dialogue has to be that you prevail at the end of every dialogue…[because] that’s not the purpose of a dialogue.”
“But why do I have to feel like I’m going to a real estate company? Like, I don’t care if the Board of Trustees thinks that way,” the student interjected angrily. “I don’t feel the relationship between a student and their university should be that of a customer.”
The student then shifted his ire toward the current state of higher education more broadly, decrying what he sees as the corruption of academia by corporate priorities.
“I don’t understand why it feels—like on Tuesday at 3:30, which is one of the most popular class times, I had to skip a class to get to the town hall, and then we have this conversation, which I know we wouldn’t have had, had there not been people marching in the streets outside of your office,” he yelled. “This is ridiculous; we go to a real estate company for a school. And I’m sorry—this is not directed at you, this is directed at our current system which makes education turn—even in the nonprofit sector into just complete businesses.”
Some of the administrators appeared stunned by the outburst, and Knapp rebuked the student for taking such a myopic perspective.
“If you wanted me to do it, I could sit here for an hour and list the things this university has done directly in response to student initiatives,” he replied testily. “I might not agree with you on one issue, and that doesn’t mean I’m not listening to you. The only point I’m trying to make is, you don’t get everything and it doesn’t mean people aren’t listening to you.”