George Washington University is embroiled in a controversy over the posting of a racially insensitive picture on social media. The sorority snapshot picture shows two white Alpha Phi sorority women holding up a peeled banana with the caption “Name: ‘I’m 1/16 black.’” Media however is reporting that neither woman posted the photo, so it is not clear who posted photo or added the quotation. [For full disclosure, I am a full-time law professor at the university].
The photo was reposted on Twitter by Imani Ross, a student at George Washington University, who noted that see saw the photo on the “eve of Black History Month.”
George Washington University Provost Forrest Maltzman called the incident “disturbing, hurtful and not reflective of who I know we are as a community. . . . Images like the one posted on social media can make people question whether they are welcome at the university, and that is unacceptable to me.”
The sorority has announced that three members have been suspended:
On January 31, 2018, a member of our chapter posted a racist image on snapchat that contained two other members in our chapter engaged in offensive and inexcusable behavior. We apologize for the delay in posting this response. We recognize that our earlier response, supplied by our National Headquarters, did not reflect the severity of this racist act. We want to take this opportunity to apologize without qualification and take responsibility for the actions of our members.
We are culpable for this action as a group in which a few felt comfortable making a joke that was distinctly racist, ignorant, and harmful. We are in no way trying to contextualize, excuse, or forgive the events that occurred.
We recognize that there are issues within our organization relating to our privilege and lack of diversity, and we are committed to listening to the voices of those who have been harmed by the actions of those individuals and by our actions as a chapter.
The three members in question are in the process of having their membership terminated.
At this time, we have reached out to the Multicultural Student Services Center in an effort to begin the process towards reconciliation and reeducation.
It is not clear if all of the students were aware of the racist quotation but the matter is under investigation.
Here is the full statement from the university:
“There was an entirely inappropriate posting on social media last night. Whatever the circumstance, or true intention of those involved, the image was disturbing, hurtful and not reflective of who I know we are as a community. As a university, we have emphasized our commitment to inclusion and have made clear that “You are Welcome Here.” We do this through our actions and our words. Images like the one posted on social media can make people question whether they are welcome at the university, and that is unacceptable to me.
Unfortunately, we have heard and read about too many instances of racist language and imagery on college campuses. They reflect the need for an ongoing discourse about race. Universities are special places that thrive because of the diverse perspectives and background of those who study, teach, research and work on those campuses.
Since the report, we have been in active dialogue with the national headquarters of Alpha Phi and students on campus who have been affected. We take this very seriously.
I hope we utilize these occasions to engage in dialogue across our community. We must remember that words and symbols have tremendous consequences. And, when they are made without regard to how those who receive them react, we can cause harm and hinder the university’s ability to achieve the preeminence to which we all aspire.”