The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
It was Tuesday, January 18th, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I walked into my first in-person class with high hopes to be educated on how to strive for equity as a future teacher. Prior to this, I took a hybrid GWTeach class with Dr.Bitler and enjoyed it enough to change my career path. She’s the one who advocated for the Anti-Racist Stem Education class as it was the first of its kind in the GWTeach department. I did question a white professor teaching a course on racism but quickly diminished my doubts as I had built a relationship with Dr.Bitler and respected her.
All of my respect for Dr.Bitler went out the door when I heard the N-word with the hard r roll off her tongue so effortlessly. It was used to describe a picture of Ruby Bridges where she commented on the tomatoes splattered on the wall along with that racial slur. As soon as she said it, you could hear it echoing off the walls and the once talkative class going silent. Students, shocked, made their way back to their desks unsure if they heard her correctly. She noticed their hanging open mouths and quickly said, “that was an oops moment for me.” She followed with that she should’ve warned us before she said such a word. I quickly raised my hand but was ignored. A Black student immediately walked out but was ignored. It was as if nothing even happened. Dr. Bitler continued to talk about intersectionality and what it means. She lectured the class with the same mouth that disgustingly said a racial slur.
After class, I along with other students immediately went up to her telling her how shitty her apology was and the harm that she had done. Once we left, she typed an apology and sent it to the entire class. It obviously wasn’t read through and looked as though it was typed on her notes app. The apology was barely a paragraph with no direct apology to the Black students in the class.
Wednesday came and when I thought couldn’t get worse, it definitely did. Dr. Bitler sent out an email with resources about the use of the N-word in academic settings. She wrote, “I think we need to have an open discussion about the use of the n-word in academic settings. The more I am educating myself, the more aware I am becoming of how damaging it can be to hear that word in a space that is supposed to be safe.” A professor with a Ph.D. trying to have a class about anti-racism doesn’t know not to use the N-word in an academic setting? A professor with a Ph.D. wants the students to help educate and discuss with her why not to use the N-word? I truly had to sit down after reading this email because how dare she?
It was 9:35 on Thursday morning and I hesitantly walked into the classroom to see it set up in a circle. There are two questions on the board: “1. Tell me how this situation made you feel? 2. How can we move forward as a class?” In other words, Black students exploit yourselves and your trauma and tell me how we can get over this? She started off with a story describing an apple that was passed down from her mom that would be used for students to hold while sharing. Students went around describing how they felt and how a lot of them don’t understand why she still hasn’t apologized directly to the Black students in the class. She simply nodded her head and said, “I’m sorry,” still not giving a sufficient apology. The circle was extremely inappropriate as the one who caused harm was the one leading it. Dr. Bitler described how the community circle was encouraged by the Diversity & Inclusion Office yet not one person from there was present. It truly showed how little they cared about this situation and the well-being of the Black students in the class.
On Friday, January 21st, three days after Dr. Bitler said the N-word in class, and the head of the GWTeach Department finally sent out an official email apologizing to the class and notifying us what’s to come this week. The letter includes, “We will join you in class next Tuesday, and again on Thursday, to create space for you to share your feelings with GSEHD and university leadership. Dr. Bitler will not be present.” A lot of the students and I sent reports on Tuesday right after the incident. Why did it take the GWTeach department three days to respond? Why was Dr. Bitler allowed to enter the classroom to traumatize the students further? Why hasn’t the GWTeach department and the Diversity & Inclusion office immediately removed Dr. Bitler as the professor? What else is there to discuss and share?
The investigation should not be questioning the students for a week but rather suspending Dr. Bitler and looking for a replacement. It is currently Saturday, January 22nd and there is still no direct apology to the Black students in this class. It’s not even a week since Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black students have to deal with racism in what they thought was a safe space. It’s barely the second week of the Spring semester and students are again disappointed with how the university handles racism. As a Latina student here at George Washington University, I stand by the Black students at this predominantly white university and will actively hold this institution accountable. I encourage other students to do the same. Black students should not have to fear for their safety and emotional well-being coming into classes. The irony of a white professor teaching an Anti-Racist Stem Education class is like an oppressor teaching about oppression. George Washington University needs to be held accountable as this situation was preventable and Dr. Bitler needs to be immediately removed not only from this class but from all other classes as well. Why should she be allowed to teach in other classes with the same mouth that says racial slurs? Students at George Washington University are all too familiar with the racism that the university allows to continue.