In a video posted to Facebook Saturday night, University President Thomas LeBlanc made an insensitive analogy comparing students asking for fossil fuel divestment to a hypothetical situation in which students want to shoot African American students.
LeBlanc apologized for the comments made in the video on Sunday, but his apology cannot undo the damage of his words.
His comments show an inability to understand and empathize with minority students on campus who might already face challenges on a majority white campus. While he explained his analogy in further detail the next day, the fact that he was comfortable making the analogy speaks volumes about his leadership.
LeBlanc has continuously rebutted the will of the student body, from failing to take a concrete position on the Colonial nickname to admonishing students who were disappointed by Marcia McNutt being chosen as the Commencement speaker. While LeBlanc faced pressure from students in both events, he did not use offensive statements to support his argument.
The basis for his argument is not entirely unfair – the majority opinion of students should not drive University-wide decisions. LeBlanc cannot bend to the wishes of all students, but he can provide some rationale behind his decisions like he did in the video. But his analogy is unfair because it equates climate activism with an inexplicably racial crime.
The comparison might have been intended to be an extreme example, but it came off as a poor attempt to condescend students who are interested in protecting the planet by creating change at their school. Using an analogy as extreme as LeBlanc’s does not further his argument, it shows his ignorance toward black students.
As the leader of the University, LeBlanc is responsible for ensuring all students are comfortable at GW. Trying to win an argument with students by using an inflammatory analogy does not make students more comfortable, and apologizing later does not solve the problem. The issue is not just about what LeBlanc said but the judgment he showed in using insensitive language.
LeBlanc’s poor choice of words was hurtful to black students – not to mention on the first day of Black History Month – and students who have advocated for divestment. His apology might take away some of the sting, but his comments still show a failure to stay poised under pressure. LeBlanc never should have made the analogy, and students are right to be upset.
Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a junior majoring in political science and psychology, is the opinions editor.