A photo of two sorority members on campus with a racist caption spread across social media Thursday morning, triggering a wave of backlash and debate from students and alumni.
Following Saturday’s men’s basketball game against Davidson, head coach Maurice Joseph joined the conversation.
“I want to make it clear the feelings that I have and our program that we have as a whole and our University has as a whole,” Joseph said in a four-minute statement during the game’s press conference. “There is no place for that in the world and there is no place for that in this country and there is no place for that certainly at this University.”
Instead of taking the court in their usual suit and tie, Joseph and his coaching staff all wore white Nike shirts with the word ‘EQUALITY.’ across the front.
Players – who wore the same shirts in black instead of their regular GW warm-ups – said they supported the sentiments of Joseph’s comments.
“The shirts for our guys, the shirts for our staff is a representation,” Joseph said. “We want to make a bold and clear statement that we as a program don’t stand for that.”
The image, posted to Snapchat and circulated on other social media outlets, appears to depict two members of Alpha Phi, one of whom is posing with an empty banana peel. The photo is captioned: “Izzy: ‘I’m 1/16 black.’” As the image spread, the University said it would examine the incident and the provost called the photo “entirely inappropriate.”
The women in the photo, who have not been publicly identified, were expelled from their sorority, but no other official action has been announced by GW.
Tanya Vogel, the acting athletic director who assumed her role just last month, said she will continue to work on showing equality and respect as her department represents “all corners of the United States and more than 30 countries.”
“Words and images of a racially insensitive nature are hurtful, no matter their intent, particularly on a college campus,” Vogel said in a statement Saturday. “We’re committed to building on the strength that is created by this diversity and fostering an inclusive environment for all.”
Joseph – who has been at GW for seven seasons – said the racial divisiveness of the Snapchat post is not normal within GW’s community and that he supports the University’s effort as they continue to investigate.
“I want our program to be a representation of what I think our school is a representation of, and that is diversity, that’s inclusion, that’s racial sensitivity,” he said. “I want everybody to understand that and I want to continue to build and foster an environment where we have respect for all and understand equality is important, that’s not just racially, that’s gender, that’s across the board.”
Athletic teams and players around the country, at the collegiate and professional level, have made similar statements supporting racial equality. In recent years, athletes have begun national conversations by kneeling during the national anthem or wearing ‘I can’t breathe’ shirts during basketball games – to stand up against police brutality.
The men’s basketball team – one of GW’s most public programs – hasn’t taken any controversial or public stances on hot-button issues in at least the last two years that Joseph has been coach.
But Joseph said he wants his team to stand at the forefront of the University’s movement towards equality.
“I want my program to be part of the solution. I want to be part of the solution,” Joseph said. “Everybody has ways to impact what is going on in this country from a racially charged standpoint. The way I try to impact is by teaching my guys every single day about life.”
Players on the men’s basketball team represent multiple cities, states and countries, as well as multiple races and ethnicities. Joseph is one of less than 15 percent of non-white men’s college head coaches, according to the most recent Racial and Gender Report Card from the University of Central Florida.
“We get spoiled in sports because race, a lot of times, gets thrown out the window because you are competing for the same goal,” Joseph said. “You don’t always get to experience some of those harsh realities that the rest of the world feels.”