SA hosts black student community forum in wake of racist Snapchat

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

The SA's diversity and inclusion assembly of the Student Association held a community forum Sunday to allow students to voice their opinions about a racist Snapchat posted on the account of a former sorority president.

In the wake of a racist photo posted to a now-former Phi Sigma Sigma president’s Snapchat story, GW community members have condemned the post and called for further action.

At least five student organizations, including the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association, released statements denouncing the post, which surfaced Wednesday. The diversity and inclusion assembly of the Student Association held a black student community forum Sunday – after SA leaders also released a statement – to allow students to voice their opinions about the incident, according to an SA graphic shared on social media.

An attendee at the forum, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said between 50 and 75 people were present. SA President SJ Matthews, SA Executive Vice President Amy Martin, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Cissy Petty and University President Thomas LeBlanc did not attend, the attendee said.

The attendee added that students expressed a lot of anger about the incident during the forum, and the event allowed students to reflect on the incident in a safe space.

The Hatchet was barred from covering the event.

Alyssa Ilaria | Graphics Editor

After the Snapchat post – which appeared on former Phi Sigma Sigma President Alison Janega’s account – emerged Wednesday, Janega resigned from her position as president Friday and disaffiliated from the sorority the following day.

In an email sent to all 10 Panhel sorority chapter presidents Saturday, officials banned all Panhel sororities from holding social events and informal recruitment this semester. Sorority members will participate in “structured educational programming and training” around “leadership, values and diversity” in the wake of the post, according to the email.

Petty, the vice president of student affairs and the dean of students, did not immediately return a request for comment. Two Panhel sorority chapter presidents declined to comment, and the eight other presidents did not return multiple requests for comment.

Izzy Griffith, the president of the Panhellenic Association, released a statement Saturday condemning the Snapchat post and responding to officials’ decision to suspend all Panhel sororities. Griffith declined to further comment.

“While we are disheartened by their decision to suspend the activity of the entire community, we recognize the need for further bolstering of our system-wide diversity and inclusion conversations and intentional actions,” she said in the statement. “We are eager to learn more about what the University envisions and – most importantly – we pledge to lead as best we are able to foster not only dialogue but also long-term culture change.”

The National Pan-Hellenic Council also released a statement condemning the post but declined to further comment.

“The GW National Pan-Hellenic Council would like to emphasize that our council is committed to ensuring that students feel that they have a safe and inclusive space where they are valued and embraced,” the council said in the statement. “The administration has taken actionable steps to exemplify their commitment against racially motivated actions on this campus.”

Interfraternity Council President Jared Levinson did not return a request for comment.

At least 17 Phi Sigma Sigma members told The Hatchet they have disaffiliated from the sorority or have expressed interest in leaving, adding that their advisers and Phi Sigma Sigma’s national headquarters took too long to address the incident since the photo was taken during the summer.

Student leaders said the post feels like a backslide in the progress officials and students made after a similar incident involving Alpha Phi occurred in February 2018. In the year following that event, the University published a report outlining GW’s diversity goals and launched a mandatory diversity and inclusion training for new students.

Matthews, the SA president, said she felt “deja vu” when she heard about the Phi Sigma Sigma Snapchat post. She said the student community is “obviously” feeling “a lot of pain.”

“I think it was frustration, disappointment and then re-evaluating,” Matthews said about student reactions. “How are we here again? How is this once again happening in less than two years?”

She said she is grappling with what the SA’s next steps will be to address the resentment students are feeling in the aftermath of the event.

“We didn’t want to provide just hollow support for the sake of doing so,” Matthews said. “We wanted whatever we need to be doing within these next few weeks to be impactful.”

Martin, the SA executive vice president, said last week’s post is especially painful because it seemed like the GW community had taken tangible steps to address the situation and prevent an equivalent one from happening again.

“We all see the similarities,” she said. “The similarities all make this event that much more frustrating because we feel like we’ve already dealt with it.”

Martin said she reached out to Raina Hackett, the SA’s diversity and inclusion assembly chair, to guide her and Matthews on how best to respond to the incident. Martin said she does not want to speak for the black community but rather wants to provide any necessary support.

“I’ve been in conversations with Raina, who has been in conversations with leaders of the black community,” Martin said. “And the thing is, I don’t want to force them into anything that they’re not interested in having.”

Hackett declined to comment for this story.

Former SA Sen. ShanTorrian Underwood, CCAS-U, and SA Sen. Sparkle Mark, CCAS-U, both of whom attended last night’s forum, also declined to comment.

Kate McCarthy and Sarah Roach contributed reporting.

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