In a statement, university President Thomas J. LeBlanc called the image “offensive and racially inflammatory,” and said the school is taking steps to ensure “all students truly feel welcome on this campus.”
Plans include establishing a bias incident reporting system, updating the student code of conduct to address harassment and discrimination, and requiring diversity training for staff members who work closely with students.
“We have to use this moment not to focus on hostility toward individuals or groups, but as a catalyst to truly improve our community by embracing our diversity,” LeBlanc said.
Peak Sen Chua, president of the Student Association, said the university will need to ensure that conversations about diversity continue in the long term beyond training, but said the changes would “improve the campus climate.”
“They are great steps toward creating a more inclusive and welcoming community,” Chua said.
The Student Association had called for the removal of the sorority, Alpha Phi, that acknowledged one of its members posted the racially charged image on Snapchat. LeBlanc said administrators are still communicating with the sorority’s national headquarters and considering appropriate actions.
The image showed two young women, a banana and a caption referencing race. The sorority identified the two women in the photo as members.
Administrators said in the statement they had completed their initial investigation and had interviewed the women in the photo and the person who posted it.
The statement said “the individuals pictured were unaware of the social media posting and its content until after it was posted.”
The person who posted the picture also said “they did not intend to offend others and acknowledged that the women in the picture did not know or approve of the associated caption,” the statement said.
Linda Kahangi, executive director of Alpha Phi International, said in an email the organization has a “long history of embracing membership inclusiveness and diversity.”
“We condemn racism in any form, and our constitution and bylaws always have,” Kahangi said.
In an interview with the student newspaper, the GW Hatchet, this week, LeBlanc called the matter an “eye opener” for some university officials.
“This is a racist posting,” LeBlanc said of the Snapchat post. “We’re stunned that it came from within our community.”
While the Snapchat post sparked action at George Washington, students have emphasized that their responses reflected deeper concerns about race relations and inclusion, LeBlanc said in a statement Wednesday.
“This incident has clearly signaled that racial tension at the university needs to be confronted,” he said. “We need to speak with one voice in saying racist acts against black students on this campus will not be tolerated.”
Sarah Larimer contributed to this report.