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Students, outraged by the photo posted on the eve of Black History Month, quickly turned to social media to call on university leaders to act.
“Whatever the circumstance, or true intention of those involved, the image was disturbing, hurtful and not reflective of who I know we are as a community,” university provost Forrest Maltzman wrote in a statement Thursday. “Images like the one posted on social media can make people question whether they are welcome at the University, and that is unacceptable to me.”
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He added that there have been “too many instances of racist language and imagery on college campuses.”
“We must remember that words and symbols have tremendous consequences,” he said. “And, when they are made without regard to how those who receive them react, we can cause harm and hinder the university’s ability to achieve the preeminence to which we all aspire.”
“We are culpable for this action as a group in which a few felt comfortable making a joke that was distinctly racist, ignorant, and harmful,” Alpha Phi wrote on Facebook Friday morning.
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"We recognize that there are issues within our organization relating to our privilege and lack of diversity, and we are committed to listening to the voices of those who have been harmed by the actions of those individuals and by our actions as a chapter.”
The three members in question will have their memberships terminated.
The incident at GWU comes weeks after a former University of Alabama student, also a former member of the Alpha Phi sorority, was expelled for using racial slurs in a video posted online.
Another student from Georgia State University withdrew after a video posted to her Finsta using a racial slur went viral.
On Thursday, the Anti-Defamation League issued a report that said racist fliers, banners and stickers were also found on college campuses 147 times in fall 2017, a more than threefold increase over the 41 cases reported one year before.
The league tracked 333 cases since President Donald Trump was elected in November 2016. A total of 212 schools have been targeted since fall 2016, ranging from top Ivy League universities to small community colleges, the report found.
"What we're dealing with on college and university campuses is a reflection of the times. It's regrettable, it's unfortunate, but that's where we are in 2018," said Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, which represents chiefs of nearly 1,800 schools.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.