Diversity and inclusion do not have a one-step fix. But University President Thomas LeBlanc has taken the first small, but necessary, step in addressing campus outrage on systemic racism at GW following the recent racist snapchat incident. He announced this month that the University would implement mandatory diversity training for all incoming students for fall 2018. This is a much-needed course of action, since racism within the GW community lies much deeper than an image of two sorority girls with a banana peel. What happened with the women who posted the photo in Alpha Phi was a symptom of a system on campus which harbors resentment, inequality and ignorance.
Fixing this system obviously won’t happen with one training, but administrators still need to approach diversity training with thoughtfulness, caution and most importantly, the belief that student involvement is necessary. Studies show that diversity trainings in general have mixed results. They can sometimes lead to backlash and be ineffective – since one training session alone cannot change innate racist tendencies and implicit biases – so GW must take the time to correctly create, develop and implement this program before Colonial Inauguration starts this summer. This can be done by ensuring administrators consult with students who have first-hand experience with this issue.
In many ways, I feel like I shouldn’t be writing this column. I’m fresh off of my first semester in college and I’m not involved heavily with multicultural student organizations on campus. Although I’m Arab-American, I haven’t personally faced racism to the extent of other marginalized groups. However, I’m not advocating anything groundbreaking or controversial – just what is necessary. And that is to talk to the people who are impacted most when developing the training.
By providing black and other minority student leaders with a consistent seat at the table, the University can better ensure that whatever program they decide to implement has input from those most affected by the issue at hand. Additionally, direct communication between administrators and student leaders that extends further than this diversity training is also crucial. Monthly meetings between multicultural student leaders and administrators, as suggested by the GW’s chapter of NAACP, could help in accomplishing this. Diversity training is a measure that is long overdue, but will not completely solve issues regarding race on campus. There will always be those reluctant and even resistant to talks about race, so students must have a direct line to those at the top in order to create an environment of zero-tolerance of intolerance.
To his credit, after the Alpha Phi Snapchat, LeBlanc did state that officials would be working with students to create a more inclusive campus. LeBlanc announced mandatory diversity training for incoming students at CI in his list of nine measures, released last Wednesday, which is intended to be based off of GW’s chapter of NAACP’s list of demands. But this list leaves out mandatory diversity training for faculty. These are the people who hold power at GW, so it is critical that they go through a similar mandatory program that is customized for them in their positions. Professors are not immune from perpetrating racial microaggressions or even outright racism. It is essential that LeBlanc proves that his words aren’t hollow, and this means mandating diversity training for every single person on campus, as well as following through with his statement that he and officials would work with students.
The University of Oklahoma implemented mandatory diversity training in 2015 for all incoming students after a video of fraternity members singing a racist chant emerged online. The training incorporates self-reflective practices and perspective-taking to teach topics like explicit and subtle differences between groups and implicit biases. The school received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award in 2016 for their efforts, and GW can look to them as an example to follow.
As a student of color who has just arrived at GW and hasn’t faced overt racism on campus, I cannot give specific suggestions as to what exactly should be incorporated into the diversity training to make it effective. Administrators who haven’t been students in as much as half a century, however, likely won’t know best either. It’s especially necessary for minority student leaders to be involved, as these are the students who have experienced racism – or have worked with students who have – and as a result can speak about the subject with much more knowledge and authority.
This effort to combat systemic racial issues at GW is a hopeful sign for current, past and future members of the GW community. The University appears to be approaching this issue with a new sense of seriousness that, if channelled correctly, can lead to real institutional change in the years to come. The onus is already on administrators, but students should also be given a similar responsibility and a role that reflects the valuable insights they have.
Naseem Othman, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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