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AN INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER SERVING THE GW COMMUNITY SINCE 1904

The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

GW must train faculty to run inclusive classrooms

The student body is once again calling on administrators to get their act together following yet another instance of a professor creating a hostile or discriminatory classroom environment for students. Late last month, Marie Matta, an assistant industry professor of decision sciences, publicly picked a verbal fight with a student who brought a service dog to class. The professor argued about it with the student in front of the entire class, despite the student informing the professor that Disability Support Services does not require paperwork for service animals.

This incident was evidence of something the GW community already knows: the University is failing students with disabilities. But it also points to the broader problem that the University does not provide faculty with the tools or instructions to make sure classrooms are safe learning environments.

Administrators will not even say how professors are trained to accommodate students with disabilities. Officials need to clarify how professors should make classrooms safe places for students’ learning and well-being, and if GW doesn’t have policies to that effect, it needs to make them. And administrators have a responsibility to rigorously and thoroughly communicate these policies to faculty and the entire community. Every professor should have these policies drilled into their heads before they ever step up to a lectern.

In a vacuum, this episode is troubling enough. But in the context of the incident last month when Alicia Bitler, a white GWTeach professor said the N-word in a class specifically on anti-racism in STEM education, it is clear that somewhere along the line, faculty aren’t equipped with adequate instruction about protecting students from marginalized communities. It should not be possible that no one ever told a professor how to respond when a student comes to class with a service animal. And it should not be possible that no one ever told a professor that saying the N-word as a white person is unacceptable, even if it’s with pedagogical intent. The past month should be an even more vivid reminder to the community about how GW, as an institution, needs a clear top-to-bottom reevaluation of how it treats disabled students and students of color.

The University has to move beyond responding to events as they happen and instead work to prevent these incidents from ever taking place. For starters, when it comes to DSS, the University needs to provide professors with clear guidelines on how to accommodate students with disabilities. The past month has shown us that professors cannot be relied on to familiarize themselves with all of the guidelines surrounding students with disabilities – and this is a problem that is not new. The DSS office has come under fire for failing to communicate with students, and professors are not always deft about respecting students’ basic dignity. The University should start by fixing the DSS office, then move on to rigorously training faculty in what DSS’ rules and policies are and how to run an inclusive classroom.

Enacting new DSS guidelines are important, but what these incidents are truly revealing is a University preoccupied with PR issues rather than one interested in fixing systemic issues. Officials have to show that they give a damn about making these incidents stop happening. Even if they can’t fix the problems in one fell swoop, they need to make progress or at the very least get caught trying.

To this end, there are a few steps the University could take to make sure faculty are ensuring a positive and safe learning environment. Increasing the frequency and quality of faculty evaluations could be one way to catch issues before they happen. If a professor is so phenomenally ill-versed in how to treat disabled students that they would start a public verbal jousting match about a service animal, then it’s not improbable that this professor had displayed other instances of ignorance that just went under the radar. Providing a stronger and more accessible means for students to flag problematic comments or behavior toward students from marginalized communities could allow someone higher-up to step in to neutralize this tendency before it causes a major incident.

This increased evaluation could come in the form of expanding the end-of-semester surveys or implementing a strategy to incentivize their completion that goes beyond repeated emails from administrators. The University could also have other faculty sit in on classes from time to time to keep an eye out for inappropriate behavior. If ignorance and bad conduct get caught early, it can make it less likely that more severe and high-profile incidents – like the rejection of the service dog or Bitler’s use of the N-word – end up happening. Essentially, catching and correcting the small stuff is important, and the University needs to make that happen.

It seems reasonable that most professors would have the wherewithal and basic decency to not start arguing with a student about their service animal in front of an entire class. But faculty’s lack of training and accountability means there is nothing stopping bad behavior before it happens or preventing it from harming students when it does happen. That has to change.

The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by opinions editor Andrew Sugrue and contributing opinions editor Shreeya Aranake based on discussions with culture editor Anna Boone, contributing sports editor Nuria Diaz, design editor Grace Miller and copy editor Jaden DiMauro.

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