Last week, prelaw student Caleb Francois of the George Washington University penned an op-ed arguing for changing the name of his university in the name of racial justice.
The fact that we live in a country where people are taught to hate our Founding Fathers is not the most bizarre aspect of this story, however.
The op-ed was published by none other than the Washington Post.
The irony that this piece would be published in a periodical that shares the same namesake that Mr. Francois so virulently detests wasn’t lost on anyone, except for, apparently, every employee at the Washington Post.
The headline made for a great image:
In the op-ed, Mr. Francois lambasts the university for feigning regard for racial justice, citing numerous evidence points. For example, to the author’s shock, when GWU was founded in 1821, enrollment was…drum roll please…restricted to white men.
Mr. Francois points out that in 1954 there were calls to preserve the segregation of African-American students.
He goes on to say:
“Limited Black professors teaching African and African American courses and the continued neglect of Black Academia and Black professorship create a campus culture in which European studies and White perspectives are favored over Black perspectives.”
Predictably, he follows up with:
“These problems are rooted in systemic racism, institutional inequalities, and white supremacy.”
I want to applaud Mr. Francois for at least presenting solutions to the ‘problem’ that he has decided to focus on, albeit poor ones.
The four moves that he believes GWU could make to show that they care about racial justice include:
The concept of decolonized curriculum blossomed across the pond in the United Kingdom. Black Lives Matter (BLM) asserted its pressure over in jolly old England with university students demanding the removal of Cecil Rhodes’ statue and the ‘decolonization’ of the curriculum.
So what does it mean to decolonize the curriculum?
It could mean including mandatory readings from African-Americans and other minority writers. Or it could mean framing teachings through the lens of oppression alone versus a more accurate objective lens.
Or it could mean no longer teaching classics of the Western canon.
In this instance, Mr. Francois eludes to the lack of African languages taught at GWU and that there have been numerous ignored calls for those languages to be taught.
It’d be interesting to see how high the demand is to learn languages such as Swahili or Yoruba and what kind of a market there is in today’s economy for that skill set.
Mr. Francois takes issue with black enrollment at GWU sitting at 10%. However, on average, the black enrollment rate at Ivy League colleges sits at 8%, so I would argue that GWU is ahead of the curve here at a minimum.
This is an area where Mr. Francois doesn’t indicate how he would increase black enrollment if given a chance.
Mr. Francois’s third step towards atonement for the sins of our Founding Fathers is to rename George Washington University. As he put it:
“Every day, hundreds of black students walk on a campus named after an enslaver of men and study at a site named after dark parts of history.”
He goes on to opine:
“The racist visions of James Madison, Winston Churchill and others are glorified through building names, programs, statues and libraries.”
You can’t help but wonder why Mr. Francois has bothered to subject himself to this kind of torture and undoubtedly take out student loans to attend an institution he despises.
He was kind enough to provide some alternatives, to include Sojourner Truth and Malcolm X.
“Heroes such as these should be celebrated and represented here at GW.”
Interesting choice in Malcolm X. A controversial individual in his own right and time in history. In his younger years, he was involved in dealing drugs, prostitution rings, and even at a point opposed integration and believed in a strict separation of races.
Referring to one of the founders of our nation and the first President of this flawed country as an enslaver of men is fascinating.
Finally, Mr. Francois pushes for hiring an African American university President to help solve the problems of racism at GWU.
I am a lover of all things America and American history. I’ve been all over this big blue marble, and I’ve seen amazing places and terrible places. But there is no place quite as magnificent in all its glory and flaws as the United States.
We have a rough history, like every other country on the globe. We have historical leaders and giants who did wonderful things for our country while also participating in terrible things.
We shouldn’t ignore the realities of history. The vast majority of our founders were ‘enslavers of men,’ as Mr. Francois so poetically put it. After our founding, many of our leaders did terrible things to include the Trail of Tears, forcing Japanese Americans into encampments, and other atrocities.
This doesn’t mean we should erase the good done by these giants of American history, either. And to judge them through the lens of our time is folly.
How will future generations of Americans judge this generation of leaders and giants? For my sake and yours, let’s hope they don’t do it through their lens of morality but understand the historical context of our time.
This alumna of GWU celebrates Mr. Francois’s right to his opinion, albeit misguided and flawed.
My hope is they never change the name of my university. But if they do, I will always be a proud graduate of The George Washington University. And no, that doesn’t make me a racist; that makes me proud to have graduated from a tough school and made it in the real world.
And just as a side note, if Mr. Francois gets his wish and renames the university, he will still be attending class in the racistly-named Washington, District of Columbia.
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