University President Thomas LeBlanc said in a statement Wednesday that officials would mandate diversity training for all incoming students beginning next fall, and implement a slew of other diversity initiatives, in response to a racist Snapchat post depicting members of a sorority.
In the statement, LeBlanc committed to several key demands from the Student Association’s “Alpha Phi Bigotry Act” and a letter from GW’s NAACP chapter made in the days since the post first emerged – including mandatory diversity training for all residential staff and resident advisers, new language in the student code of conduct to address racial incidents and a reporting system to track and investigate forms of bias and intimidation.
He said the University has agreed to enact the measures but only gave a timetable for the freshmen diversity training, which will start in the fall.
LeBlanc’s statement also included an update on the University’s investigation into the incident, which featured two members of Alpha Phi, one of whom was posing with a banana peel. LeBlanc said officials had conducted several interviews, including with the two women in the photo and the person who posted it, as part of the “fact-finding” phase of the probe.
He said the inquiry found that the quoted caption, “Izzy: ‘I’m 1/16 black,’” was not written at the time the photo was taken and the two women featured weren’t aware of it until after it was posted.
“The picture was posted by a person who has said that they did not intend to offend others and acknowledged that the women in the picture did not know or approve of the associated caption,” according to the statement.
The photo created a major outcry on campus and prompted black student leaders to call on the University to reform how GW addresses racism.
“The image was offensive and racially inflammatory — resulting in great harm to our community,” LeBlanc said in the release. “This incident has clearly signaled that racial tension at the University needs to be confronted. We need to speak with one voice in saying racist acts against black students on this campus will not be tolerated.”
LeBlanc said the University is in contact with Alpha Phi’s national organization to consider “appropriate actions” for the sorority.
“We have to use this moment not to focus on hostility toward individuals or groups, but as a catalyst to truly improve our community by embracing our diversity,” he said. “We want to harness the energy that has been generated by this moment to move with purpose and a sense of urgency toward ensuring all students truly feel welcome on this campus.”
He said in an interview with The Hatchet Tuesday that the incident would lead to a closer examination of the role Greek life plays on campus. He did not commit to creating a University taskforce to examine discrimination and racism in Greek life, one of the recommendations of the SA resolution passed Monday.
Officials also did not commit to hiring a person of color as the dean of the student experience, who will be hired by next fall, another key proposal from the resolution. Instead, LeBlanc said officials would prioritize a background in diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring the new dean.
LeBlanc said that the University will be implementing nine suggestions based on recommendations introduced by student leaders:
1. Mandating diversity training for all freshmen starting in the fall
2. Mandating diversity training for housing and residential life staff, RAs, freshman orientation leaders, admissions staff and tour guides
3. Updating the code of conduct to address “non-sex-based” harassment and discrimination
4. Changing the University’s equal opportunity policy to address forms of harassment other than sexual harassment
5. Creating an anonymous reporting system to track verbal harassment and forms of “unwelcome conduct”
6. Starting a “GW Race in America” speaker series
7. Requiring the new dean of the student experience to be a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion issues
8. Mandating diversity training all recruitment chairs and new member educations within the Greek life community
9. Working Administrators will work with Multicultural Greek Council leaders to find on-campus housing opportunities for their chapters
LeBlanc said over the next 45 days, officials will work with student leaders to develop a full diversity and inclusion plan. He added that he will be holding a town hall in the next two weeks to update the community.