University President Thomas LeBlanc said Tuesday that a racist Snapchat post depicting sorority members would lead to a more thorough examination of Greek life on campus and a wider conversation about the issues students of color face at GW.
In his first interview since the post began spreading last week, LeBlanc said the incident was an “eye opener” for some officials and a reminder that “we’ve got a lot of work to do” to ensure students of color feel included on campus. He said the University plans to implement some form of diversity training by the beginning of next academic year and delve into whether Greek chapters have excluded parts of the student body in their recruitment processes.
“This is unacceptable,” LeBlanc said of the post. “This is a racist posting. We’re stunned that it came from within our community and it represents a real challenge for our community that we need to come together over.”
In response to demands from the Student Association and GW’s NAACP chapter, LeBlanc said the University aims to implement diversity trainings by next fall, but the details – including when the sessions would be held – had not yet been determined.
The post, which featured two members of Alpha Phi and a racist caption, has sparked a fierce debate about campus inclusion and a lack of diversity in many Greek chapters. Since the post became public last week, GW’s Alpha Phi chapter said it would expel three members involved in the incident and the SA Senate called on the University to implement mandatory diversity training at freshman orientation, start a taskforce to examine discrimination in Greek life and expel GW’s Alpha Phi chapter in a resolution unanimously passed Monday night.
Although he is “aware” of the calls to bar Alpha Phi, LeBlanc said he did not have updates on the status of the investigation. Officials said over the weekend that they were in “continuing conversations” with the people involved in the post.
LeBlanc said the incident would draw more University attention to the Panhellenic Association and Interfraternity Council chapters on campus, pledging to make fraternities and sororities a focal point of his ongoing effort to improve student life.
“Is too much of the social life of GW wrapped around the Greek experience and if the Greek experience excludes certain students, are we excluding them from the undergraduate student experience?” he said. “The very definition of fraternity and sorority is to pick a group of students and not pick another group of students, that’s the essence of what it is.”
LeBlanc said he couldn’t speak specifically to GW’s Greek life culture because he hadn’t yet studied it. But he said officials would need to examine the “values” that determine which students get bids for Greek chapters.
“I would be especially concerned if we’re not treating the minority fraternities and sororities equally with the white student fraternities and sororities,” he said. “I would be especially concerned if there’s any evidence that the fraternities and sororities are not choosing from a diverse student body for their membership.”
IFC and Panhel chapters – which represent roughly 20 percent of the undergraduate student population – have sought to move to a more values-based recruitment system in recent years. Greek leaders have also tried to address issues like sexual assault and hazing after five chapters were suspended from campus within three years.
But at community meetings since the post emerged last week, students said recruitment processes for IFC and Panhel chapters often leave out minority students. Students also said IFC and Panhel organizations have been given priority treatment over chapters in the Multicultural Greek Council for on-campus townhouses, which the SA resolution sought to address.
LeBlanc said the incident had opened up a larger conversation about the treatment of minority students on campus, raising issues that were not brought up at a series of town halls he held in the fall as he began his tenure.
“This opened up a space to say ‘you know it’s bothered me that I’m a person of color and I’ve never been invited to X, it’s bothered me that the institution doesn’t have these things for us but seems to have these things for those students,” he said. “So just that opening has turned out to be beneficial and something we need to take advantage of.”
LeBlanc first addressed the incident at a previously scheduled dinner with first-generation students Friday night in which he pledged to hold meetings on race relations in the coming month.
He said some of the recommendations from the SA resolution and the NAACP chapter are “good ideas” that would begin to address concerns that students of color have voiced about dealing with persistent racism on campus.
But he said improving the campus culture for those students would have to be an ongoing conversation over the next several months.
“This is not reflective of the University I want us to be,” he said. “But the reality is it’s reflective of the University we are today because it happened.”