George Mason University reckons with race

Dr. Gregory Washington, George Mason's first Black president, tackles racial bias on campus and the complicated history behind the school’s namesake.
4:40 | 08/31/20

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Transcript for George Mason University reckons with race
As thousands of people rallied for racial justice at the Lincoln Memorial last Friday a crossed the Potomac River in Northern Virginia. Students at George Mason University now back on campus during the pandemic were raising their voices of solidarity. And the school's first ever black president is taking a stand against racism while navigating the complicated history of the school's namesake. ABC's Devin Dwyer has the story tonight. The students are back on campus and calling for racial justice. I just want to see more actions is taking on campus or a black glass Manning. George Mason university in Virginia like many across America transformed by summer protests and calls it nineteen. Masks are mandatory social distance and forced in classrooms. Student meals. Not even a delivery guy not even a delivery. And you know they don't feel safe thank you very much. The school the largest and most diverse public University of Virginia is also overhauling how it handles issues of race we want to be a national leader. In depth discussion. How campuses should be should tortured how big should operate. In how they should be performed. Relative to race doctor Gregory Washington this summer became George Mason's first African American president. And one of just 8% of university presidents nationwide. Poor black. This history making appointment coming just as the pandemic recession in protests against racism collided at wants. We on the figure don't know affirmative took the job knowing what I know now I mean this is. It's a tough environment one major challenge addressing questions about the school's namesake George Mason. A founding father who helped inspire the bill of rights but who also owns 100 slaves most of them children. Mason was one of the biggest slave owners in Virginia did you ever consider dropping George Mason so so this is an interesting. Debate. This is a part of the American story. And we can't separate. George Mason from this institution no easier than we can separate many of the founding fathers from the country. Because they didn't significant percentage able large percentage of them owned slaves. Washington says the school will keep its name arguing the founding fathers should be treated differently than confederate leaders. Statues have been defaced and torn down as symbols of hate. I don't think. My ham own grave has made its way through campus where all members home until recently that history had been overlooked. In 2017 a team of undergraduate researchers uncovered new details about the lives of Mason slaves prompting a reckoning on campus. But instead of removing a monument to Mason the school decided to construct a memorial to be enslaved people he owned. And you learn the mine and that is being built because it provides a full picture of the story. We just had dispatching indemnity know the history behind everything now with that being built you can look at the history. And look through all of that and see the statue. And now the university's new president are going even further creating an anti racism task force to investigate lingering racial bias at the school and rooted out. Actively monitoring police activity reviewing salary and promotion policies adding counselors for racial healing. Requiring every course syllabus to include a statement against racism. In a time of national unrest. Would related to racial inequities. You know my message would be one of look. Now great things are still possible. Call for optimism as the nation grapples with yet another police shooting an unarmed black man G complaint from Wisconsin. In the incident unsettling students hundreds of miles away. I mean it's that it had to be people that look like me life. Dying on the streets admitted Sunday that they can't control but I think at the moment what we in the country recognize the need because at the moment is seems like we're very divided. As the march for justice equality and unity goes on students back on campus during this pandemic. We can clear their voices aren't going. I feel like the protests are good being based on that we want to fight but what we believe is right and mission paid poor African American male or female to be killed four six protest for what he knows very. For ABC news live I'm Devin Dwyer in Fairfax Virginia.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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