AMCHA’S Responses to Antisemitic Activity at George Washington University

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1.  Three swastikas were found inside a dorm housing  three historically Jewish sororities and fraternities in Feb 2015. The University’s unresponsiveness did not address Jewish concerns, and students felt compelled to ask their parents to call in about the issue in order for the university to take action. 

  • INCIDENT: During the last week in February three swastikas were drawn inside International House, a dorm housing sororities and fraternities, three of which are historically Jewish. According to reports about the swastikas that appeared in The GW Hatchet and Washington Post, the University: Did not formally acknowledge the swastikas until a meeting with students four days after the initial report was filed; Did not take the issue seriously as students felt compelled to ask their parents to call the university on their behalf in order for the university to take action; Referred to the swastikas as “offensive drawings” but did not publicly acknowledge that a swastika is an antisemitic symbol associated with genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people; and May not have adequately trained security personnel to recognize antisemitism and hate crimes.
  • 3/4/15 – AMCHA + COALITION RESPONSE:  AMCHA Initiative organized a coalition letter including 18 other groups addressed to George Washington University President Steven Knapp. The letter stated, “Jewish student leaders have called on the University to issue a formal apology for not addressing Jewish student concerns about the swastikas in a forthright manner, and asked that campus police officers be better trained in diversity and hate crimes. We fully support the students’ requests, and we ask that in addition, you investigate this incident as a possible hate crime as defined in the George Washington University Crime Statistic Report Form, and issue a public statement condemning the swastikas, acknowledging their antisemitic nature and impact on Jewish students, and committing yourself and your administration to addressing similar incidents of anti-Jewish bigotry promptly and vigorously.”
  • 3/4/15 – UNIVERSITY RESPONSE:  President Knapp responds quickly with a letter that, while acknowledging a swastika’s antisemitic meaning by stating “we are fully aware that, since its adoption nearly a century ago as the symbol of the Nazi Party, the swastika has acquired an intrinsically anti-Semitic meaning, and therefore that its appearance on our campus is a very disturbing occurrence,” his letter did not fully address Jewish students concerns nor was there a public stance taken by him on this issue.
  • 3/6/15 – AMCHA + COALITION RESPONSE:  AMCHA Initiative organized a coalition letter reply which stated, “Thank you for your swift response to our letter.  We commend you for your continuing investigation and for holding accountable the perpetrators of this hateful behavior.  However, we feel that our concerns, and those of Jewish student leaders on your campus, have not yet been fully addressed….In the last year, more than 10 college and university campuses around the country have been defaced with swastikas, in each case causing particular distress to Jewish students….Therefore, we believe it is imperative for you to take the following steps to deter future acts of anti-Jewish bigotry and help protect Jewish students and all students on your campus: Publicly acknowledge that a swastika is an antisemitic symbol associated with genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people, and that the swastikas found inside the International House were particularly upsetting to Jewish students on your campus, who felt targeted for hatred and discrimination; Publicly affirm that you are investigating this incident, and all future incidents of this nature, as antisemitic hate crimes; Publicly affirm that you are committed to educating University staff, including campus police, in identifying antisemitism and antisemitic hate crimes.”
  • 3/6/15 – UNIVERSITY RESPONSE:  President Knapp responds quickly again with a letter stating that the investigation was ongoing, and that “it is being conducted assiduously by officers who have received anti-bias training and by senior staff members who are working with Jewish student leaders.  In the meantime, our dean of students, Dr. Peter Konwerski, with the guidance of the executive director of GW Hillel, Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth, has issued clear and strong statements to inform and reassure our university community.  When the investigation is concluded, we may indeed decide to issue a new public statement.”
  • 3/11/15 – AMCHA + COALITION RESPONSE:  AMCHA Initiative organized a coalition letter to thank President Knapp saying, “We thank you once again for your prompt reply to our letter, as well as for your awareness of the seriousness of the problem of campus antisemitism. We look forward to hearing the results of your investigation and welcome any new public statement that would help educate the campus and broader communities about the scourge of antisemitism, its impact on Jewish students, and the vital importance of combating it. Our organizations stand ready to help you in any way we can.”
  • 3/16/15 – INCIDENT UPDATE:  Another swastika is found, this time on the bulletin board of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity.
  • thumbs-up 3/16/15 – UNIVERSITY RESPONSE:  President Knapp immediately issues a good statement that incorporates all of the recommendations AMCHA and the coalition asked for in our last letter to him after the first swastika incident.
  • 3/19/15 – AMCHA + COALITION RESPONSE:  AMCHA Initiative organized a coalition letter thanking President Knapp saying, “We strongly commend you for the immediate and forceful statement you issued following the second swastika incident at George Washington University on March 16, 2015….”
  • 3/21/15 – UNIVERSITY RESPONSE:  President Knapp writes back to the groups saying, “Thank you for the supportive message, and many thanks once again for your interest in our university and your concern for the welfare of our students.”