George Washington University students said the school’s abrupt cancellation of presidential inauguration events slated to begin today is a bad public-relations call in a series of poor PR choices from the president and her team.
All inauguration events scheduled today through Saturday would either be canceled or held online, with select people invited to attend in person, according to an email set by the university last night.
“In light of ongoing global tensions and their impact on our community, some of this week’s activities to celebrate the installation of President Granberg will be modified, postponed, or canceled. While we looked forward to these events as originally planned, it is important for the university to focus on supporting our community,” the email said.
Most students said the canceled events do not affect the student body, as many don’t care. Additionally, some mentioned that the sudden cancellation added to a slew of recent bad press that GW President Ellen Granberg received, specifically regarding the rhetoric she used regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict and how she has handled related events on campus.
“The president is going to antagonize people no matter what side she takes. Honestly, her wording based on her first few responses weren’t good,” said Syed Fatmi, a GW senior. At one point she’s insinuating some people are terrorists, at some other points she’s taking that back and also insinuating that the other side is bad.”
“Honestly, the inauguration being canceled does not affect students very much. I’m pretty sure the major student opinion is no one cares,” he said.
Other students said that the president and the university may have been concerned that there would be protests during the events, especially since much of the temporary infrastructure for the events was erected in Kogan Plaza, where many protests are held.
Aya Khanji, a GW junior said, “I feel like they’re scared that students will speak up or do something because I feel like that would’ve been a huge possibility. I could so see people in the crowd yelling or protesting or saying something, so maybe that’s why they canceled them.”
Since Granberg received significant backlash from students for her response to a Palestinian student group projecting images on the Gelman Library on campus, communication from her office has been quiet, Khanji said.
Granberg sent an email immediately after the situation saying, “we don’t condone the celebration of terrorism,” which indirectly called the actions of the Palestinian student group a celebration for terrorism, Khanji said.
On Tuesday, Granberg issued a statement announcing the increase of police presence on campus and security guards in residences as well as additional outdoor space monitoring in response to reported increased casual bigotry and direct identity-based mistreatment on campus regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict.
“In past statements, I have made it clear that I condemn the terrorist attack on Israel and all forms of antisemitism and Islamophobia. Protecting and preserving our shared community, however, must go beyond making statements. I want to share the steps we are taking to support our students, faculty, and staff during this increasingly complex time,” the statement said.
“I think she’s just avoiding things; she doesn’t want to talk about stuff,” Khanji said.
Another student, Mary Catherine Kamerbeake, said, “It may be a safety issue, I know we have a lot of protests right [on Kogan Plaza]. I know this is the main protest area.”
Additionally, the inauguration events cost a significant amount of money. Construction crews installed temporary structures around campus, and the university publicized a community block party on Saturday to celebrate the official inauguration. The block party was supposed to have food for the hundreds of people attending, and there was even training promoted for students to assist in donating any of the extra food.
“They spent a lot of money on all this infrastructure around campus for the inauguration,” Kamerbeake said. “I think it really shows how important it is.”
Prior to the cancellation of the inauguration events, GW promoted the event online and at various community meetings, including ANC and Foggy Bottom Association meetings, for months. Kevin Days, the GW director of community relations appeared at many of these meetings to personally invite community members.