Three student groups released a joint survey Sunday to gather student feedback about encounters in which administrators have acted “inappropriate, unsettling or biased in nature.”
The Black Senators’ Caucus, Anything But Colonial Coalition and Students for Indigenous and Native American Rights published the survey after University President Thomas LeBlanc compared fossil fuel divestment to hypothetical support for shooting “all the black people here.” Student leaders who created the survey said they will use the results to demonstrate that racism among top University leaders is a systemic issue that goes past LeBlanc’s remark.
The survey asks respondents, who have the option to remain anonymous, to share incidents of bias or “inappropriate commentary” they have experienced that involved an administrator.
“We hope to validate and highlight these experiences through collective action to show that incidents like the one found in the video are not isolated,” the survey states.
SA Sen. Brandon Hill, CCAS-U and the chair of the Black Senators’ Caucus, said student leaders have discussed plans to share the results of the survey with administrators or incorporate the survey responses into SA legislation to provide more “contextual evidence” of campus racism.
Students can currently report and request action for individual incidents to officials through an anonymous bias incident reporting system the University rolled out last February.
“In essence, there is no higher up than LeBlanc and we’re the ones who have to hold them accountable and his administration,” Hill said. “It’s the first of its kind, so I hope that allows it to get some attention and I hope that it’s used as a tool in the future.”
The Black Senators’ Caucus released a letter Sunday demanding a public apology from LeBlanc, saying his comment was “emotionally damaging” to a “great deal of GW’s student body.” The caucus asked LeBlanc to provide context on his word choice and reason for using the analogy, but his apology did not suffice, Hill said.
LeBlanc said in a statement Sunday that he regrets his word choice and understands how his “insensitive” example could be hurtful to the community.
Hill added that students should continue to celebrate Black History Month, which kicked off Sunday and support black culture in the wake of the incident. He said halting the celebration would counteract the progress student activists and leaders have made in creating a more inclusive and diverse community.
“Incidents like that shouldn’t exist during Black History Month as a method to unclog our mind,” Hill said. “I think they should be used as fuel to remember, ‘This is why we’re celebrating, this is why we do what we do and this is why we’re making ourselves visible,’ rather than to stop the celebration and stop how far we’ve come.”
Georgie Britcher, the co-chair of SINAR, said LeBlanc should be held accountable for his actions because student activists and leaders like Jordan West, the diversity and inclusion education director, have “actively fought” for equality through resources like diversity trainings and bias reporting systems. Britcher said gathering information about other bias-related incidents would help clarify to officials that the video involving LeBlanc is not an isolated event.
“We’re hoping to hold people accountable for their actions and show that racial insensitivity is so alive and present on this campus, it always has been,” she said. “All of a sudden people are shocked, but it is not something to be shocked about because it has been happening for a while.”
Britcher added that, in addition to using the survey as a resource, students must remain open-minded and listen to voices they may not necessarily agree with to move past incidents like LeBlanc’s comment.
“If you want to get out and fight – get out there and fight,” she said. “If you want to focus on getting your degree and you don’t feel like your identity should have to dictate your experience here, that is 100 percent valid, and there are those of us willing to push for you.”
Hayley Margolis – the co-chair of the Anything But Colonials Coalition, a group of students urging administrators to change the Colonials moniker – said the University needs to better consider how invested students are in campus issues, like the push to ditch the Colonials nickname and rename the Marvin Center. Former University President Cloyd Heck Marvin backed segregationist policies during his tenure.
“One thing we do have particularly strong here is a lack of initiative from those people at the very top to make radical changes in a way that promotes diversity and equity and is able to confront our past,” Margolis said.
Margolis said the coalition took part in the survey because it supports a greater push for racial equity on campus and groups like the Black Senators’ Caucus, which was the first organization to speak out about LeBlanc’s comment. She said the GW community can’t hold discussions on the controversy of the Colonials moniker or the Marvin Center until people can discuss how LeBlanc set aside the voices of minority groups.
She added that LeBlanc’s apology did not “humble” him, calling the statement “pathetic.” She said the apology did not accurately address the issue of racism at hand.
“Right now, I do not know what works to get inside LeBlanc’s head and change things but obviously not much is changing if he can just easily spit out words as he did on Sunday,” Margolis said.