Updated: June 3, 2020 at 10:38 p.m.
The Black Men’s Initiative at GW is calling on five student organizations and University President Thomas LeBlanc to release an action plan on how they will actively support black students on campus.
BMI at GW published a letter Saturday pressing Sunrise GW, GW College Democrats, GW College Republicans, the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Association and LeBlanc to condemn police brutality and white supremacy on campus and to detail plans to support black students within 72 hours of the letter’s release. The letter asks the University to respond to protests over the recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two black Americans killed at the hands of police officers in recent months.
“During these challenging times, it is imperative for multicultural groups and their allies to fight back against bigotry and hate-filled figures by continuing to educate ourselves on black history, supporting black businesses and universities, as well as advancing the presence of black people in predominantly white environments,” the letter states.
The letter acknowledges property destruction in cities like Minneapolis, Minnesota and Atlanta, Georgia from protests responding to Floyd’s death but urges allies of the black community to understand the messages behind demonstrators’ actions. BMI asked that protesters who choose to join marches take “necessary precautions” and be safe, attentive and aware of their surroundings.
LeBlanc released a statement to the GW community Sunday expressing his support in light of recent events of police brutality. He said he wishes students could come together on campus to support one another, but members of the community will “find ways to connect” ahead of GW’s planned return to campus.
“I cannot begin to fathom the hurt GW’s black students, faculty and staff may be feeling,” he wrote in the email. “My heart goes out to all who are suffering and may not feel safe.”
University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter.
College Republicans published a statement Monday with a list of four initiatives the organization planned to enact within their organization to support the black community on campus. The letter acknowledged the group’s shortcomings in the past engaging with black students, but the group pledged to participate in events like the Multicultural Student Services Center’s annual block party and plan more events addressing political issues like mass incarceration and criminal justice reform.
“As the future leaders of the Republican Party and our broader American society, we recognize that we have a pivotal role to play in promoting a more productive dialogue around issues of race,” the letter states. “Today we personally commit to being better allies of our black peers and speaking out against instances of racism in our own lives.”
The organization will advocate for its officers to receive training in cultural awareness and de-escalation techniques at the GW and Metropolitan police departments, according to the statement. Several D.C. universities’ Black Student Unions released an open letter Friday urging local leaders to implement similar policies into the MPD.
The statement also urged University officials to ensure all faculty members receive training on facilitating conversations addressing racial issues in class.
Patrick Burland, the College Republicans director of public relations, said the organization’s leadership is “actively” gathering input from black student leaders on how to better support black students on campus. Prior to the letter’s release, the organization published a blog written denouncing police brutality and urging other Republicans to do the same.
“Our organization and members stand in solidarity with the black community in advocating for systemic changes to fight police brutality,” Burland said in an email.
College Democrats released a statement Thursday urging Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to charge the four officers involved in the death of Floyd. The statement also asks students to lobby for lawmakers to punish officers involved with the event and to donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, an organization providing bail for arrested demonstrators.
The organization released a plan of action on Monday aimed at fighting against systematic oppression and improving its relationship with black organizations on campus. The plan states the group’s Department for Diversity and Inclusion has sought to have people of color hold the majority of positions within the department for the organization to appropriately speak out on issues impacting communities of color.
The organization will also establish a Racial and Ethnic Justice Committee and a policy department aimed at tackling issues on and off campus like criminal justice reform, according to the statement.
“As an organization that represents and protects so many, we have a duty to be a helping hand as well as a leading advocate in the fight for justice across the social justice spectrum,” the letter said.
The statement said the group plans to hold bimonthly roundtables with multicultural organizations to increase collaboration on events and encourage engagement in organizations directly impacting minorities like the Black Lives Matter movement. College Democrats plans to host several events in the coming weeks to advocate against “systemic injustice” like a virtual discussion on police brutality in collaboration with other black organizations and a phone banking campaign urging Minnesota officials to charge Officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with Floyd’s murder, with 1st degree murder.
Louie Kahn, the group’s president, said the organization’s diversity and inclusion department has been working diligently “over the last few weeks” to craft a comprehensive plan promoting inclusivity within the organization. He said members will release their plan and host a phonebank Monday calling lawmakers to advocate for the arrests of the officers involved in the deaths of Floyd, Taylor and other victims of police brutality.
“We pledge that this will be the first of many events throughout the year that show our commitment to standing in solidarity with the black community and other marginalized communities on our campus,” Kahn said in an email.
The Panhellenic Association also posted a statement declaring their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and acknowledging the organization’s privilege and history as a “predominantly” white-dominated space. Members will continue to educate themselves on the role white women historically played in white supremacy, the letter states.
“We are dedicated and determined to continue doing this important work,” the letter states. “Our roots are grown from poisoned soil – we are trying to change how we grow from here.”
Panhel followed its initial statement with an action plan consisting of 11 steps the organization will implement into their organization to move past the group’s previous history with exclusivity and commit to tangible action promoting equity. The statement said the group has a responsibility to educate members and to listen to the experiences of black students in and outside of the organization.
“While we are working on improving and educating from within, we value all community members and seek their input on how to make this campus a better place, using our platform as GW’s Panhellenic Association and a predominantly white organization,” the letter states.
Panhel pledged to reallocate funding and time to multicultural organizations combatting racial injustices on Foggy Bottom and increase programming surrounding anti-racism starting this summer, according to the statement. The statement said the organization will create a Panhellenic Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Board social media account to promote multicultural events that organizations like the Multicultural Greek Council host to transparently outline members’ work creating an inclusive environment.
The organization also promised to prioritize communication with student groups through an anonymous bias reporting form to hold members accountable and committing to creating a safe space for discussion in each chapter.
“In addition to the following action items, we are taking the time to pay careful attention to our objectives in order to execute them fully and properly,” the statement said.
Panhel did not return a request for comment.
The Interfraternity Council released a statement Monday stating members were “appalled” by the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade. The statement said the IFC consisted of “incredibly privileged” organizations, preventing them from fully understanding the “sadness and frustration” affecting black communities during this time period, but members are striving to “do better” and educate themselves.
“We are not only hearing but listening, and we are not only learning but becoming educated so that we can best provide support to our brothers, our classmates and our communities during times like these,” the letter states.
The IFC did not return a request for comment.
Sunrise GW released a statement Sunday acknowledging the “privileged positions” the majority-white student organization has on campus and promising to promote an inclusive environment. The statement pledged the group’s solidarity with D.C. universities’ Black Student Unions’ letter advocating for reforms in the MPD and referred to last week’s Justice, Equity and Anti-Oppression plan with the steps the organization intends to take to address racial and equity issues.
Sunrise formed a working group late last month amid criticism from Students Against Imperialism denouncing racism in leftist organizations like Sunrise GW and GW Students for Bernie.
The letter urges members to use their positions of power to donate to black causes and organizations and “confront their own racism.” Two documents, one listing bail funds by city for students to donate to and another with educational materials discussing allyship and antiracism for students to read, will also be accessible to students through the group’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, according to the statement.
“There is a long path ahead to achieve racial justice on our campus, in our city, and in this country,” the statement said. “As an organization, we are committed to putting in the work, striving to do better in our anti-racism initiatives and standing with people of color who have been fighting against centuries of oppression.”
Pranay Somayajoula, the JEAO working group chair, said the organization is thankful for BMI’s letter and commitment to holding Sunrise accountable. Somayajoula said the organization’s statement and upcoming JEAO Plan of Action reflect the group’s commitment to dismantling anti-blackness and white supremacy in the environmental movement and society at large.
“We’re committed to building a hub that is not only non-racist, but is actively anti-racist, and the measures outlined here and in our May 26 JEAO Plan of Action are just the first step in doing so,” Somayajoula said in an email.