An Open Letter to GW President Steven Knapp

The letter below was sent by the Hindu American Foundation to President Steven Knapp of the George Washington University on April 20th, 2015.

Dear President Knapp,

On behalf of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a non-profit advocacy organization for the Hindu American community, we write to you to express our concern with your March 16, 2015 statement regarding the posting of a swastika at the International House on the George Washington (GW) campus.  Specifically, we note that your dismissal of the swastika, an ancient symbol of auspiciousness and good fortune, as “utterly unacceptable” singles out and alienates GW’s Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Native American students.  We also strongly oppose GW’s attempt to expel the student who posted the swastika in question without  consideration of his motives for doing so.

On March 16, 2015, a student at the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity posted a bronze replica of the Hindu swastika, which he obtained in India, on the fraternity bulletin board.  The student explains that his motivation behind the posting was benign, and he intended to start a dialogue about the long history of the swastika as a symbol of peace in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.  The University’s response, however, ignores the student’s motives and focuses on the swastika as a symbol of “intrinsically anti-Semitic meaning.”  In your statement on March 16, you indicated that ANY use of the swastika on campus is “utterly unacceptable.”  We do not dispute that, for many GW students, the swastika serves primarily as a symbol of the hate and violence of the Nazi party of Germany.  As with any other symbol, when the swastika is actively used to intimidate and disrupt the GW campus, swift and decisive action is necessary.  However, by completely ignoring the context of the posting in this case, your actions themselves risk intimidating and creating a hostile environment for Hindu, Buddhist, and other GW students, who might otherwise seek to display the swastika as a symbol of their faith.

Contrary to the hateful and violent meaning the swastika has come to take on for many since its misappropriation by the Nazis, the original swastika is an ancient and holy symbol.  It is still commonly used at the entrance of Hindu homes, in temples, and on invitations to special occasions such as weddings and other rites of passage.  The four limbs of the Hindu swastika have diverse symbolic meanings: the four Vedas (Hindu holy texts); the four stages of life; the four goals of life; the four Yugas (eras); the four seasons; and the four directions.  As such, the symbol cannot be dismissed as one of “intrinsically anti-Semitic meaning.”

Furthermore, we are highly concerned with your attempt to expel the student who posted the symbol without any attempt to understand the context of his actions.  The consequences of the University’s expulsion could very well be a de facto ban on the use of the swastika in any context on campus.  As such, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, or Native American students who sought to use the symbol in a religious manner would be unable to do so without facing the risk of punishment.  Such consequences violate both federal and D.C. law and call into question your commitment to religious diversity on campus.

We ask that you apologize for the tenor and content of the March 16 statement and reiterate your commitment to religious diversity at the George Washington University.  We also urge you to reassure all students that, while attempts to intimidate or disrupt using the swastika will be dealt with swiftly, the University’s actions will protect those students who seek to use the symbol as a representation of thousands year old history.  We look forward to an affirmative response to this request.  Please direct your reply to Harsh Voruganti, Esq. at harsh@www.hafsite.org or 202-223-8222.

 

Regards,

/s/

Harsh Voruganti, Esq.

Associate Director of Public Policy

Hindu American Foundation

/s/

Samir Kalra, Esq.

Senior Director and Human Rights Fellow

Hindu American Foundation

/s/

Suhag Shukla, Esq.

Executive Director

Hindu American Foundation

 

5 Comments
  1. April 21, 2015 |
    • westwoodwizard
      August 13, 2016 |
  2. cool
    April 30, 2015 |
  3. HmmmIzitso
    July 23, 2015 |
  4. westwoodwizard
    August 13, 2016 |