Victoria Freire, the first-year student who said she was pushed, planned to tape a petition to LeBlanc’s front door that decried the school’s connection to the fossil-fuel industry. The petition was signed by 1,800 students, faculty and staff members.
Freire, 18, said she was stopped by a campus police officer who told her she was not allowed to be on LeBlanc’s doorstep. She said she refused to leave and was joined by several other student protesters. Two officers clashed with students on the steps, video footage published by the GW Hatchet, the campus newspaper, shows.
“They got physical immediately,” Freire said. One officer “was using excessive force and there was no warning. He started grabbing onto my arms before he picked me up and pushed me down.”
The officer who was placed on leave has been with the campus police department for more than five years, said Crystal Nosal, a spokeswoman for the university. The university has not released the officer’s name.
When asked if the officer will be paid during leave, Nosal said the school does not comment on personnel matters.
The International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America, which represents GWU police officers, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Campus leaders said they are investigating the incident.
“The university places a high value on our students’ right to free speech, and we are committed to protecting their right to do so safely,” according to an email sent to the campus. “The Division of Safety and Security is working with students to gather detailed information about the incident that took place at the F Street house. We will fully investigate complaints in accordance with university and department procedures.”
Freire said she filed a complaint with the university’s police department after the alleged altercation.
“I think I’m all right,” Freire said. She said she hit her head on the pavement as she fell down the steps. “Right now, I’m just still a student here, so I’m trying to get to my classes.”
The incident comes days after LeBlanc issued an apology for making what he called an “insensitive” remark that compared support for fossil-fuel divestment to hypothetical support for shooting black people. A student last weekend approached the president on a sidewalk and asked whether the university would cut ties with fossil-fuel companies and close the Regulatory Studies Center if students approved of such a measure.
“Doesn’t matter,” LeBlanc responded. “What if the majority of the students agreed to shoot all the black people here? Do I say, ‘Ah, well the majority voted?’ No.”
The Regulatory Studies Center has been criticized for receiving funding from billionaire philanthropist Charles Koch and for advocating for government deregulation. The research center, on its website, says it “does not take institutional positions on issues” or “accept funding that stipulates predetermined results or that limits dissemination of its scholarly activity or research.”
LeBlanc, in the conversation that was videotaped and posted online, said the university is working on a plan to divest holdings in fossil-fuel companies, which total about 3 percent of the school’s endowment — more than $50 million. The school has an endowment of about $1.8 billion, according to the most recent data from the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
The protest Wednesday was organized by Sunrise GW, a student-run group that focuses on reducing fossil-fuel dependence. Freire said she is a member of the organization.
“We push the Green New Deal nationally, and we also, here at GW, have a campaign that we launched to push the university to divest from fossil fuels,” Freire said.
The Green New Deal is a package of legislation set forth by Democratic lawmakers that includes goals to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and guarantee jobs for all.
Members of Sunrise GW in a Facebook post said the officers’ “conduct was absolutely disgusting.”
“I was clearly not going to enter the building. They clearly don’t have students’ interests in mind,” Freire said about university officials. “They seem to mishandle every situation.”