Bishop Walton is a junior studying political science.
On Nov. 2, the athletic department unveiled Black Lives Matter signage courtside at the Smith Center. While it is heartening to know that the department believes that Black lives matter, this action stands contrary to the feelings of Black students at the University. This action begs the question: Do Black lives matter to GW when the name of our moniker is the Colonials? Do Black lives matter when students have to study in a student center named after a man – Cloyd Heck Marvin – who didn’t even think Black students were worthy of attending GW? Do Black lives matter when there is only one Black full-time faculty member in the political science department – a major home to many Black students?
When Black students seek institutional change – even the bare minimum – we are consistently met with bureaucracy and stagnation. Black students are not demanding a grandiose student experience, but we are simply asking for meaningful investment in our community. Black student leaders, in particular, spend hours upon hours lobbying officials to implement change for the student body, whether it be reform in GW’s police department or changes to buildings with a problematic namesake. This is because we care for our fellow students but also because we know the potential GW can achieve. We want to see that the University wants to see us succeed just as much as it wants its other students to – and we want to see this through sincere and intentional action.
This is not to desecrate the work of GW athletics. It is evident leaders of the department have been working tirelessly to establish racial competency and awareness among student-athletes. But let this serve as a call to action to the institution as a whole. We must truly live up to the standards that they place on the basketball court floor for thousands of students and visitors to see in years to come. If not, students who exist outside of the Smith Center will continue to wonder how or if GW will live up to their declaration on the court.
What does BLM signage mean to students who are disproportionately food insecure, who are pouring hours on end to improve the student experience and who are living under conditions in an online environment that many couldn’t even imagine? If GW wants to declare Black lives matter, leadership must genuinely invest in Black students. Amid two pandemics – the COVID-19 health crisis and racial injustice in this country – the burden, again, has been on the students to bring the community together and put forth innovative ideas. Although student leaders are glad to put in the work, it comes at a cost – students may forgo opportunities, sacrifice academic success and suppress mental health.
If we have learned anything from this past summer, it is that action must follow words, or we will continue to live in a system that perpetuates what it has always been. The day that GW truly invests in its Black community, vital change will come: increased retention rates for Black male students, increased alumni giving rates and a true pride in our university.
GW, you have given us signage – now, it’s time to follow through. And yes, the time is still now.
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