Op-ed: Confronting racism at GW

Sophomore Nkozia Bethune is an international affairs and sociocultural anthropology major. 

As a dedicated citizen and student who entered the prestigious institution of the U.S. Air Force Academy and later GW, I am here to report microaggressions I have experienced at such an overwhelming rate in the environment of this institution. I can only intellectually process it as a direct threat upon the Afro-community. It appears we have lost our compassion for each other and have forgotten the historical foundations by which these democratic institutions were built. These institutions are constant reminders of structures of domination and oppression toward the Afro-community.

As college students dedicated to knowledge and truth, we hold a duty to expose the oppressive systems in our society. University President Thomas LeBlanc apologizing for his “poor choice of words” in stating, “If a majority of students on campus want to shoot black students, do you think I’ll allow them…,” when being asked to divest from fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil is outraging. ExxonMobil has a long history with Afrikan nations, allegedly exploiting the countries for resources while corrupting foreign governments like Zimbabwe, Guinea and Nigeria. In 2009, Mobil Producing Nigeria, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, agreed to pay $600 million to the Nigerian government to renew its 40 percent share of three oil licenses, The Guardian reported. The remaining 60 percent was held by the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

ExxonMobil is under investigation by anti-corruption enforcers for allegedly misleading the public and investors about the risks of climate change. We have a right to confront actions that go against morality. LeBlanc’s piercing comments were not just a “poor choice of words” but an intentional statement that illustrates the culture and environment at this institution and many other predominantly white institutions around the world. Students’ opinions do matter – a large part of GW’s finances come through student tuition – and we must monitor the occurring experiences of microaggressions and oppression on campus. There must be accountability for it to stop.

Black History Month was not just about experiencing struggle, singing, dancing and rapping but about the success and further growth to establish equity. I strongly encourage GW’s chapter of the NAACP to find ways to address racial disparities through programs and organizations. We go to school to learn knowledge for things to be changed, not for a deja vu experience.

We should include the study of our history in our curriculum despite GW being named after slaveholder George Washington. The issue in our histories is the obsession of power and control. Black History Month is about remembering and comparing history to reality and constructing ways to ensure our survival. If we do not come together to fight injustice, the plagues will linger in our society. We must do more for our communities here and everywhere – this is a call of action.

It is disturbing to experience a number of racial incidents at GW in the past eight months. I have heard and seen students say the “N” word; I have had professors intentionally ignore my hand in class until a white student raised their hand directing the professor to call on me; I have been told that reporting racial incidents would not do anything because GW is more powerful than I am; I have had a professor allegedly intentionally grade me lower in a first-year development class after making a racial remark toward me in class; I have been told to remain silent and speak later. We have so much potential as a community of future leaders to fight against the perils in this society because we know our history.

LeBlanc, I challenge you to right your wrong and do more for the Afro community on this campus. I do not want to hear about more diversity and inclusive dinners. There should be actions taken toward creating Afro scholarships and programming to restore the inequitable nature of this school. The Afro community needs departments of Africana studies, women’s studies and decolonization to be incorporated in all curriculums. Fairness rests in the tangible actions the University can take.

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