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SA Senate calls for removal of Alpha Phi chapter after racist incident

Hatchet File Photo
Former Student Association Sen. Imani Ross, U-at-Large, votes in favor of a resolution calling for increased diversity and inclusion efforts after a racist Snapchat post rocked campus in February.

Updated: Feb. 9, 2018 at 5:41 p.m.

The Student Association Senate unanimously passed a resolution Monday calling for the removal of Alpha Phi from campus after a racist Snapchat post involving three of the sorority’s members rocked GW last week.

The resolution, introduced by Sen. Imani Ross, U-at-Large, before a packed lecture hall in Funger Hall, also calls on the University to prioritize giving vacant Greek townhouses to multicultural Greek organizations next academic year, hire a person of color as the new dean of the student experience and introduce mandatory diversity trainings for all members of Panhellenic Association and Interfraternity Council Greek chapters.

The resolution’s demands also include creating a University taskforce to investigate racism and discrimination in Greek life and adding language to the student code of conduct to address offensive incidents on campus.

“Diversity and inclusion isn’t trendy,” Ross said, presenting the resolution to the senate. “This is not a resolution on white people’s definition of diversity and inclusion. This is a resolution that aims to tackle institutional racism and how it affects diversity and inclusion on campus.”

She said officials should respond to the resolution and take up its recommendations, or they will face a “swift and deliberate course of action” to wipe out exclusion and racism on GW’s campus.

In an interview after the resolution’s passing, Ross said she was “overjoyed” by the vote but there is “more work that needs to be done.”

“I can’t make the administration do anything, so I just hope we can try and get as much done as possible,” she said.

The legislation was drafted in response to a Snapchat post featuring two members of Alpha Phi, which included a racist caption. The post, which began circulating Wednesday night, has drawn a huge backlash on campus in recent days.

Officials say they are in discussions with the students involved in the post and Alpha Phi’s international organization but have offered few details about the investigation.

[gwh_image id=”1048187″ credit=”Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor” align=”none” size=”embedded-img”]Sen. Devan Cole, CCAS-U, presents a screenshot of the post featuring Alpha Phi members to SA President Peak Sen Chua during Monday’s meeting.[/gwh_image]

Ross urged supporters of the resolution to pack the room at Monday’s meeting, and about 300 students filled the Funger Hall classroom to capacity. Typically, SA meetings are held in a room with a roughly 60-person capacity.

For more than an hour during public comment, students delivered impassioned and, at times, emotional speeches condemning Alpha Phi and what many called an exclusionary culture in IFC and Panhel chapters. Many students also criticized the University’s handling of diversity, saying that while officials tout the diverse backgrounds of students, they often don’t address the issues they face on campus.

[gwh_image id=”1048198″ credit=”Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor ” align=”none” size=”embedded-img”] From left: Sen. Ojani Walthrust, ESIA-U, Black Student Union President Freddy Ryle and Malcolm Elashari-Rashed, the polemarch of the Kappa Chi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., embrace during the public comment period at Monday’s meeting.[/gwh_image]

Freddy Ryle, the president of the Black Student Union, who said he was speaking on behalf of himself and not on behalf of his organization, said during public comment that racist incidents are not unique to GW, also occurring at schools like American University and the University of Missouri where students also rallied in response to hateful acts.

“This is the perfect time for GW to be on the right side of history,” he said. “I urge every senator in this room to vote yes on the resolution and for every administration to hear us to, to genuinely care for us, to care about us and our experiences here.”

Sophomore Michael Ferrier said during public comment that he never expected “that I would experience this level of insensitivity, ignorance and racism” at GW.

“These are the people that build GW, these are the people that hold this community together and anything but making the right choice would be shameful,” he said about the black community.

Elizabeth Jessup, the president of the Panhellenic Association, said at the meeting that she will implement mandatory diversity trainings for all sororities in the wake of the post.

“This is an issue that goes beyond the three members who posted the picture, that goes beyond one chapter on this campus,” she said. “Our entire community is committed to going beyond this legislation to take action to combat those forces.”

SA President Peak Sen Chua said he will sign the resolution. He commended students for speaking during public comment because “it’s incredibly difficult to share our experiences.”

“I wouldn’t know and I can’t completely understand how all of you feel tonight, especially people in the black community,” he said. “I wish that race was a continuing conversation at the University.”

During debate on the resolution, senators said the incident is indicative of a sentiment many within the Panhellenic community hold and that more needs to be done to address the exclusivity of Greek organizations that have been historically white.

Sen. Andrew Lama, ESIA-U, said Alpha Phi has recruited largely white women to its GW chapter in recent years, a pattern he said was indicative of discrimination. Even though the recruitment process doesn’t explicitly promote the exclusion of certain groups, the sentiment is apparent in sororities’ pictures, where “they all look the same,” he said.

“That cover photo of all Alpha Phi girls looking the same did not just get created. It was years of discriminatory policies,” Lama said. “Why do we tolerate them on this campus and why do we recognize them at this University?”

One-by-one, senators voted to approve the resolution shortly before midnight, drawing huge cheers from the crowd gathered.

[gwh_image id=”1048185″ credit=”Keegan Mullen | Staff Photographer” align=”none” size=”embedded-img”]Sen. Jessica Martinez, CCAS-G, celebrates after the resolution passed.[/gwh_image]

Sen. Ojani Walthrust, ESIA-U, said the demands in the resolution were “justified” and incidents like this contribute to mental health issues on campus.

“It’s really hard to talk right now,” he said. “I’m pissed, I’m livid, and this issue is not an isolated incident, and we all have to recognize that.”

Liz Konneker contributed reporting.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the resolution calls on the University to prioritize giving Alpha Phi’s townhouse to a multicultural Greek organization. The resolution calls on the University to prioritize giving vacant Greek townhouses to multicultural Greek organizations in the 2018-19 academic year. We regret this error.

Editor’s note:
This post was updated to more accurately reflect Malcolm Elashari-Rashed’s title in a photo caption. It was also updated to clarify a quote from Ojani Walthrust.

The Hatchet also misattributed information from a public comment made by Michael Ferrier to Freddy Ryle. The post has been updated to properly attribute the information and to add additional information from Ferrier’s public comment.

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