GW has been named a top school for “muzzling” its students.
The University won a Muzzle award from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, according to a press release. GW won the award for the suspension of a student who placed a swastika on a residential hall bulletin board in International House last year.
The Metropolitan and University police departments launched a hate crime investigation after a member of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity posted a swastika on the group’s bulletin board inside International House in March of last year. The student was expelled from his fraternity for the incident.
A National Hindu organization defended the actions of the student, citing the swastika’s historical context and claiming that it could set a precedent of banning all swastikas on campus.
The Thomas Jefferson Center has been awarding annual Muzzle awards for 25 years, but this was the first year that the awards focused specifically on speech regulation on campuses. Muzzles are typically awarded to a mix of individuals, officials, institutions and governmental bodies.
Clayton Hansen, an assistant director at the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, said in an email that the incident at GW was an example of administrators ignoring stated commitments to free expression in a “zero tolerance” approach to speech.
“At GW, this took the form of punishing a student who displayed an Indian swastika on a residential hall bulletin board,” Hansen said. “There was no consideration of context, let alone the student’s right to “speak” through his display of the object.”
The recipients of the 2016 Jefferson Muzzle awards fell into five categories: Censorship of students, censorship by students, limiting press access on campus, threats to academic freedom and silencing outside speakers.
Hansen said each year the center collect news reports and file away incidents for the awards. He said that given the “unprecedented scope” of free speech and academic freedom under attack on campuses, they decided to include every college-based incident that they could verify.
“We hope that this year’s awards will help foster a deeper appreciation for and understanding of First Amendment principles among college administrators and students alike,” Hansen said.