George Washington University President Thomas LeBlanc began a dinner he was hosting on Friday evening for first-generation students by expressing how disappointed he was to see social media that is offensive and contradicts the university’s efforts to make everyone feel welcome on campus.
“I am committed to making GW a place where all our students feel they can reach their full potential in a diverse and inclusive environment,” Dr. LeBlanc said.
The president emphasized that “it is important that I and others make clear our values, understand what is happening on campus and take steps to promote our values.” During the upcoming month, Dr. LeBlanc will host additional meetings focused on race relations on campus.
The GW chapter of the Alpha Phi Sorority issued a statement apologizing for what the university administration described as a “disturbing and hurtful” posting by a member of a GW sorority on social media. The statement said that a member of its chapter “posted a racist image on Snapchat that contained two other members in our chapter engaged in offensive and inexcusable behavior…. We want to take this opportunity to apologize without qualification and take responsibility for the actions of our members.”
The GW NAACP chapter also issued a statement that made clear that “the degradation, devaluation and animalization of people of color is a reality which persists against the most vulnerable communities in America and permeated on our college campus.” The chapter made specific recommendations for improving inclusiveness at GW. These include: mandatory in person diversity training for incoming students, professors and department chairs and a site for anonymously reporting racial incidents. And they recommended a rehabilitation program for students who violate or disrespect fellow students with racist remarks on campus.
The president and Provost Forrest Maltzman have indicated that many of the recommendations from the GW Chapter of the NAACP are being seriously considered.
At two meetings Thursday night, with hundreds of students in attendance along with GW administrators, students reacted with concern over the incident and shared those concerns with administrators, including Dr. Maltzman.
Imani Ross, chair of the Student Life Committee of the Student Association, said that students were able to voice their concerns and opinions to administrators and the GW community at the two Thursday night meetings, both of which she said were “productive.”
“This is a teaching moment to really address certain issues on campus that revolve around diversity and inclusion, address how we prevent things like this from happening again and making students more aware of their social media use and its impact on the entire student community,” Ms. Ross said. “I think it was a productive day, and hopefully students will continue to do the work as the whole situation continues to unfold.”
Frederic Ryle, president of the GW Black Student Union, said the Thursday night meetings were “emotional but beneficial.”
Mr. Ryle urged the university administration to continue working to build an inclusive environment for all students. “This entails transparency and consistent punishment to issues of racially insensitive and derogatory acts,” he said. “As far as our community, we need to stay consistent in our efforts to effect change and to better our relationships and love each other.”
Dr. Maltzman said in a message to the GW community that “whatever the circumstance or true intention of those involved, the image was disturbing, hurtful and not reflective of who I know we are as a community.”