Minorities Allege Campus Bias
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 25, 2013 13:01
While university administrators have championed diversity initiatives over the last decade, many black and Latino students continue to report incidents of racial bias both on and off campus.
Aya Waller-Bey (COL ’14) authored a viewpoint in The Hoya (“Racial Bias Runs Rampant,” A3, Jan. 18, 2013) in which she shared incidents of bias that student residents of the Black House have confronted.
Waller-Bey decided to write her viewpoint after the Black House held a haunted house in October. Neighbors repeatedly called the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program and the Metropolitan Police Department, even though Waller-Bey says the students were not making much noise and there was no alcohol present. She states that the SNAP officer acknowledged that the Black House students were in the right and had not broken any rules or laws, while the MPD lieutenant forced the students to move the line for their event down the street.
But Waller-Bey said that the haunted house incident was just the latest manifestation of chronic institutional bias at Georgetown.
“The haunted house incident was the icing on the cake for me,” Waller-Bey said. “I was not feeling institutionally supported in any way by Georgetown. …It was like I was talking to a wall with nothing changing or improving.”
MPD said it plans to investigate the October incident.
“We will need to investigate this matter that reportedly occurred in October 2012. We are not aware of any complaints from students,” MPD Communications Director Gwendolyn Crump wrote in an email. “The community calls about parties in [Georgetown] in general. A noise complaint does not equal racial bias.”
Waller-Bey faced a similar situation to the haunted house incident last April, when she had friends over in her apartment in Henle Village, many of whom attended Howard University. There was no alcohol present according to Waller-Bey, and she says the party was shut down at 11:30 p.m. even after complying with the Department of Public Safety officer’s request to lower the volume of the music. DPS did not respond to requests for comment.
“I hadn’t done anything wrong,” Waller-Bey said.
Students of the Black House maintain that they were treated more harshly than the situation warranted.
“Others will say, ‘Well, why did the neighbors call? Because you’re Georgetown students and they just don’t like Georgetown students.’ But it happens too many times to the same people for us to think that it’s just because we’re Georgetown students,” Black House resident David Price (COL ’14) said.
Price said that he never expected he would face situations like this when he decided to attend Georgetown.
“I didn’t think that coming into my junior year, living in the Black House, I’d have these problems,” Price said. “There was someone from the Office of Student Affairs who told us, ‘They called on you because you’re black.’ I never imagined having to experience a conversation like that.”
University Provost Robert Groves has emphasized diversity as a priority of his agenda since his arrival on campus last fall.
“I have been meeting with students to learn from them about their experiences at Georgetown and their aspirations for a more inclusive community,” Groves wrote in an email. “We have discussed several issues, such as strengthening institutional support for student identity groups, creating new and innovative ways to make it easier for students to find courses that explore aspects of diversity and bringing together students and faculty interested in identity studies to foster greater collaboration among them.”
In their academic lives, many black students have been disappointed by the lack of diversity in both Georgetown’s faculty and curriculum as well as bias they have faced in the classroom.
Waller-Bey said that a main concern of many students is the low number of black professors at Georgetown.
“It’s a problem for students not seeing any positive images of black people. It reinforces the stereotype that there aren’t any smart African American [professors],” she said.
Waller-Bey’s viewpoint describes an incident in which a college dean told a student to “be the token they want you to be.” Other black and Latino students, like Yasmin Serrato (SFS ’13), claim to have faced similar prejudices in the classroom.
“One of my professors made a comment about my midterm grades. He noted that the Latino students in the class generally didn’t do as well as everyone else in the class, and he asked if it was a language-barrier problem,” Serrato said. “He was going to offer me more time on the final. I didn’t know whether to be offended or [thank him] for being considerate.”
The university implemented a bias reporting system run through the Office of Student Affairs in 2004, after University President John J. DeGioia convened a Hate and Bias Reporting Working Group in response to student demonstrations. Through the system, students can report incidents of bias they have faced, though the website clarifies that “just because the expression of an idea or point of view may be offensive or inflammatory to some, it is not necessarily a bias-related incident.”