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When presidents disagree: Student Body President Edwin Santos criticizes new protest policies

Student Government responds to new University policies on free speech and outlines action steps

American University Student Body President Edwin Santos expressed disappointment in the University and its “lack of support” for Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students in a statement on Feb. 1, one week after President Sylvia Burwell’s email announcement banning indoor protests and requiring all clubs and posters “promote inclusivity.” 

Beyond criticizing the new policies, the statement also noted the University’s failure to support Jewish, Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students after acts of hate on campus. Santos was not the only Student Government member to express concern. His announcement followed a single student protest in an Undergraduate Senate meeting and a Senate Resolution calling on the University to reverse the new policies. 

Santos acknowledged problems of antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate on campus in his statement, saying that the University’s response does not address these issues equally.

“The university, while rightfully recognizing and condemning unacceptable acts of antisemitism within our community, has failed to fully support all students impacted by events in Israel and Palestine, particularly neglecting Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students,” he wrote in the statement. 

This imbalance, he wrote, went against the University’s commitment to Inclusive Excellence

He also criticized the new policies directly, noting the lack of community input in creating them and calling them a “strategic measure to suppress student voices.”

“Though the university addressed evident hate and discrimination on campus, it failed to do so comprehensively and impeded our freedom to express ourselves authentically,” Santos wrote. 

The statement also described Santos’ action plan with six steps, one of the steps being publically publishing the statement in disagreement with the University’s response and meeting individually with Students for Justice in Palestine and Students supporting Israel.

“It also just revealed even more how complex it is to address the thing because both sides' experiences are very real to them,” Santos said in an interview with The Eagle. “So it's like how do you balance those out and come up with a solution that will address both things while still addressing my students?”

He also committed to meeting with President Burwell and University leadership, facilitating individual meetings with administrators and leaders from the student organizations that represent directly impacted students and amplifying student concerns on this matter at the Board of Trustees meetings Feb. 29 through March 1.  Based on the results of the conversations, he hopes to develop a “comprehensive action plan.”

“These policy changes are not like they're not forever. It was an acute situation that they needed to take action for.” Santos said in an interview with The Eagle about his meeting with President Burwell, which took place on Feb. 2.

Senator At-Large Connor Thompson, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, staged a one-man indoor protest of the policies during the Senate meeting on Jan. 28. 

Addressing the Senate from the front of the room, Thompson held a handmade sign with the words “Protect Student Speech.”

“I stand here in Kogod with this sign, and I stand for the principles that I believe that you and I share,” he said during the meeting. “You may reprimand me and discipline me for protesting your decision within a building. I understand what I am doing.” 

Thompson said he had not received any disciplinary notices from the University or AUSG, saying he had “not been martyred yet.”

He also put forth Resolution 19-006 – A Resolution to implore the Reversal of The American University Indoor Protest and Postin Ban – which, he said, “simply calls upon the University to restore freedoms that students have always enjoyed at AU.”

The Senate voted to send the resolution back to the Committee of Student Rights and Services to be workshopped based on questioning or points of debate from Senate members, on Feb 5. 

It was passed unanimously on Feb. 11. 

“I believe in free speech,” Thompson said. “I believe in the Constitution. I believe in everything this country was founded on and I don’t see those values reflected in this ban, and so that’s why I protested.”

This article was edited by Kathryn Squyres, Abigail Turner and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Ariana Kavoossi.

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