Student leaders at George Washington University this week called for administrators to remove a sorority chapter from campus following a racially charged photo that surfaced on Snapchat.
The university’s Student Association Senate unanimously passed a resolution Monday night that supported banishing the Alpha Phi sorority from campus and urged George Washington to embrace sweeping diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“We recommend that tonight should not be the start or end of these conversations and our discussion of how we can address racism on campus,” said Sydney Nelson, the organization’s executive vice president. “As a Student Association, we’ll continue to provide the space and we’ll continue to approach the university and the administration and ourselves to do better and be better, because it’s a lot of work we need to do and that starts tonight.”
School officials said Tuesday they have not determined sanctions against the sorority.
Hundreds of students packed a cavernous lecture hall to support the resolution and share emotional stories about institutional racism and their concerns with campus culture. The gathering came days after a sorority member’s Snapchat post — showing two young women, a banana and a caption that referenced race — sparked an outcry on campus. The sorority identified the two women in the image as members.
Alpha Phi International officials did not immediately return a telephone message or email seeking comment Tuesday. The university’s chapter of Alpha Phi also could not be reached Tuesday.
Student Senator Imani Ross, who sponsored the resolution, said it is “an open invitation to all administrators to collaborate.”
George Washington’s provost, Forrest Maltzman, said in an interview Tuesday that university officials have been meeting with students on the matter.
“There are a lot of affected students who are expressing hurt and wanting to know if they are welcome at GW,” he said. “We are trying to make clear that they are welcome at GW.”
Maltzman said “a broad consensus of disappointment” has emerged about the incident, with a promise to take “action to do better.”
Keiko Tsuboi, a senior who attended the meeting, said she is skeptical administrators will act but hopes to be proven wrong.
“We gave you some feasible goals that will make students of color more comfortable at this school, and these aren’t just suggestions — they’re demands to make life livable for us,” she said.
The resolution carried nearly 20 requests, including mandatory diversity and inclusion training for the university’s Panhellenic Association and Interfraternity Council, which govern sororities and fraternities, and for members of those organizations. It also called for “racism and bigotry awareness training” at new-student orientation.
Elizabeth Jessup, president of the school’s Panhellenic Association, said the organization plans to implement the proposed training for its chapters.
“I want to reaffirm that this does not represent our values, but we do recognize that we have created a culture and that we’ve allowed a racist culture to persist in our organizations, and we’re committed to addressing that,” Jessup said.
The student government meeting stretched for three hours, with students filling seats in the lecture hall, crowding the aisles and leaning against walls. Owen Manning said he had intended to just sit in the audience and listen. But as the George Washington freshman watched a stream of peers rise to speak, he decided to join them.
“For [GW] to allow racism or discrimination in any capacity is not allowed. It’s not cool,” he said.
Manning, like many who spoke before him, walked off the stage to raucous applause and cheers.
As student senators cast their votes for the resolution, the room exploded with frenzied celebration. Members of the crowd high-fived and hugged, and Ross embraced fellow senators.
“This legislation is proof that it is possible to all collaborate and figure out actionable items that could be addressed immediately,” Ross said.
Peak Sen Chua, president of the Student Association, expressed support for the resolution Monday and said he was looking forward to working with students to “push the university to do better, to make our community do better, to make this place a place for everyone.”
“The debate over the resolution was a time for the GW community and specifically the black community to come together to find a way to move forward after the incident of last week,” Chua said Tuesday.
The existence of the image was first reported by the GW Hatchet, the student newspaper, after it began circulating on social media. Last week, Alpha Phi’s university chapter took responsibility for what it called a “racist image” and issued an apology.
Reaction to the post continued Saturday, when players on the GW men’s basketball team and the coaching staff wore T-shirts that read “Equality,” according to the Hatchet.
The outcry at George Washington comes a few months after Confederate flag posters with chunks of cotton were discovered at American University.
In 2017, bananas were found hanging from string in the shape of nooses at American, according to the school. The fruit had been marked with the letters AKA, apparently invoking the initials of a sorority with a predominantly African American membership.
Manning, the freshman who spoke Monday, said that although his academic career at the university is just beginning, he is ready to see a change on campus.
“It should be a place where everybody can be not the color of their skin, but who they are as people and who they are as students and what they bring to the table,” he said.
Sarah Larimer contributed to this report.