As students are still reeling from a racist social media post, the University should use this scandal as a turning point – to make GW a better and more inclusive place for people of color.
This month, a Snapchat featuring two members of Alpha Phi with a racist caption spread online, sparking outrage and igniting a larger conversation about racism on campus. The impact showed immediately as more than 200 students and administrators packed an open forum, voicing their anger and demanding change in the treatment of people of color at GW. This conversation was a necessary one that we must continue to have, even after we move on from this specific incident.
Student organizations should be commended for springing into action. Last week, the Student Association Senate unanimously passed a resolution that included kicking Alpha Phi off campus. The Hatchet’s editorial board supports removing Alpha Phi’s chapter from GW. All members involved in the Snapchat were not following the values they must adhere to after being initiated as a member of their sorority, from leadership to character development. Not only was the post on Snapchat for several hours before being taken down, but several sisters also wrote five-star reviews on their Facebook and Greek Rank pages to counteract the one-star reviews that hurt students left criticizing the sorority after the post went viral. Through their reaction, the sorority showed that they were complicit with the racist remarks and put their social image first.
But this isn’t the first incident to bring attention to the impact of the lack of diversity within Alpha Phi. Several women disaffiliated from the sorority before and after this incident because they felt the chapter was not inclusive. The exposure of this systemic problem justifies their removal from campus. This is not only an issue isolated to Alpha Phi or Greek life at GW. It is a campus-wide problem which cannot be addressed easily or quickly, but removing the chapter is the first concrete step to changing the culture.
All three girls involved in the Snapchat were expelled from their sorority – but this isn’t enough. University President Thomas LeBlanc released a statement Wednesday claiming GW’s investigation of the incident found the two girls in the picture were “unaware of the social media posting and its content until after it was posted.” Nevertheless, all three girls deserve greater punishment, but to different degrees. The girl who took and captioned the post deserves the harshest punishment. However, even if the girl holding the banana peel was unaware of the caption, she should have realized the implications of her pose, and shouldn’t be let off easy either. More investigation must be done, and all three girls must face real consequences, especially since the post was up for hours and they likely did see it. The girls may or may not have had malicious intentions or realized how much the Snapchat would implode on campus, but this doesn’t excuse their actions. Intention only matters so much once you have hurt and offended so many people.
However, we must remember that whether or not the girls receive punishment will not change the campus culture. Last week, GW’s NAACP chapter proposed demands and recommendations in a letter stating what the University should do, many of which we strongly support. Taking many small steps year-round can help improve our culture in the long term, instead of only having a conversation about diversity and inclusion when something as atrocious as this happens.
GW’s NAACP chapter demanded mandatory diversity training be implemented for all students and faculty. In response, Elizabeth Jessup, the president of the Panhellenic Association, said at the SA meeting she would implement diversity trainings for all sororities. Then LeBlanc announced the University would make diversity training mandatory for all incoming students starting in fall 2018. Mandatory diversity training is a positive move, but this will not eliminate racism on campus alone. However, it will help to increase accountability so students cannot claim ignorance or innocent intentions if another similar incident were to occur.
This editorial board has previously voiced support for having more people of color in high University leadership roles like the GW NAACP called for, and will continue to do so. While we won’t mandate a person of color in the role, the new dean of the student experience should, at the very least, have experience working with diverse communities.
While we support almost all of the NAACP’s demands and recommendations, we are against creating a student judicial committee to handle racial incidents like this. Only administrators – not students – should have the ability to punish other students, regardless of the scenario. But NAACP’s idea of the formation of a student diversity council that would meet with administrators on a monthly basis is a smart move that will ensure an ongoing conversation about the experiences and concerns of people of color on campus year-round.
Students may have been quick to react, but LeBlanc waited almost five days after the Snapchat went viral before giving a generic response. Although he has become more transparent since then, he shouldn’t have waited. When interviewed last Tuesday, he stated that he would examine Greek life and implement diversity training next academic year. In a statement the next day, he gave more details about proposed changes, such as an update to the student code of conduct, establishing a reporting system for incidents like this and requiring that the new dean of the student experience is experienced in working with diversity, equity and inclusion.
After this incident, some students may believe that removing all Greek organizations should be the next step to improving student life on campus. However, these racist and insensitive issues don’t solely exist within Greek organizations. All student organizations should use this incident to work on being more inclusive. We openly acknowledge that our editorial board is predominantly white, which we are working to improve. This incident has understandably left students disturbed and angry, including us. But by removing Alpha Phi and listening to students’ demands, we can change the culture.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Renee Pineda, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Zach Slotkin.