SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: April 26, 2024

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):George Washington University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 26, 2024, George Washington University’s (GWU) administration suspended seven students who has participated in a peaceful pro-Palestinian encampment on campus.

On April 25, a group of George Washington University students, including some affiliated with the university’s Student Coalition for Palestine (SCP) and the DC metro area branch of Students for Justice in Palestine, set up tents in GWU’s University Yard. GWU warned students that if they did not disperse by 7pm that evening, they could face temporary suspension or be administratively barred from the university. The deadline passed with no intervention.

Early in the morning on April 26, GWU officials asked Washington, D.C. police to intervene and clear the encampment. Officers assembled around the encampment before senior city and police leaders ordered them not to intervene.

Later that day, GWU suspended seven students, each with multiple counts of misconduct. Their suspensions were effective immediately. According to a university official, those students under temporary suspensions, typically lasting up to 21 days, would not have access to housing or campus facilities during their suspension, and would not be able to complete their coursework. Those students with “non-temporary” suspensions, typically lasting one semester or more, would also not receive credit for courses taken during the semester of their disciplinary infraction.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of students for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly. While university authorities have an obligation to take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of students and university personnel and should endeavor to prevent disruptions that inappropriately inhibit the functioning of or access to higher education, they must do so consistent with their responsibility to ensure academic freedom and free expression on campus. Moreover, where alleged violations of university policy do occur, authorities have an obligation to ensure due process, transparency, fairness, and proportionality when engaging in disciplinary action, and should avoid punishments that effectively restrict future expressive activity. The punishment of nonviolent student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.