Racial images spark outrage on campus

By: Jessica Griggs ~Editor-in-Chief~

Students and administration have expressed outrage over recent racist images that have surfaced in the Xavier community. Two images went viral Oct. 24 and 25 that appear to many to depict graphic examples of racism.

One of the images was posted on Snapchat by first-year Melanie Barton. The photo appears to show Barton applying blackface, and is captioned “Who needs white when black lives matter.”

The other was a photo taken of a dorm room window in which a skeleton is visible wearing a dashiki, a garment native to West Africa, and appears to be hanging by the neck, allegedly by a noose.

Xavier’s president, Father Michael Graham, sent out an email addressed to the Xavier community just before noon on Oct. 25 in which he condemned the incidents and promised to keep the community updated on the situation.

“I am outraged and deeply troubled by recent racist images connected to Xavier students,” Graham said in the email. “Racist actions are unacceptable on our campus, and we have mechanisms to respond in a responsible and thoughtful manner. When one of us falls short, we all fall short.”

As a result of the incidents, the Bias Advisory Response Team (BART) is holding a meeting Oct. 26 at 4:30 p.m. in the Arrupe Overlook of Gallagher Student Center (GSC) to support students who have been affected by these images and discuss what can be done to improve Xavier’s climate.

“The meeting is first and primarily to support the people who have been impacted by this,” Taj Smith, co-chair of BART and director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, said. “That is not limited to just African American students or Black students even though this recent example was directed toward that community. It’s really open to anybody who is hurt in some kind of way or who is an ally. If we have time, depending on where people are at with that process, we hope to begin a conversation about what can we do to improve our climate and community.”

The administration was made aware of the images last weekend and was working on a response when the images went viral. Smith says BART’s process is to gather all of the information from the involved parties and then decide how to proceed from there.

“We need to collect information, so that’s why it took us a little into Monday to make sure that we had all the data correct because we don’t want to sort of jump the gun and just respond to what we see on social media,” Smith said. “We need to talk to people face to face, and our next stage, which this is really the first time we’re trying this stage out this year, is having an open forum. We felt that there was a need for that just given the climate, not only with this particular issue but many issues across the country.”

The exact repercussions the involved students are facing have not been disclosed.

“As a university we are already working across campus to respond to the incidents,” Associate Provost and Chief Student Affairs Officer Dave Johnson said, “and it’s important to us that we hold students accountable for these actions and that we support all of the students who have been impacted. Every case is assessed on a case by case basis, and our integrity and conduct processes are, by law, confidential. We don’t release what actions we take to the broader community because of those laws and guidelines that are in place.”

Black Student Association (BSA) President Jeremiah Pennebaker said that the overarching culprit in incidents like these is a society that promotes White supremacy and racism.

“Of course there has been outrage, of course there has been action and mobilization and of course the university will take action as they are supposed to,” Pennebaker said. “But one thing that I, as Black Student Association President, would like to communicate is that my personal intent and that of my organization is not to simply condemn the student involved. We would hope that she learns the error of her ways and hope that this will be a growth experience. We do not condemn the university… We do, however, condemn the society, the institutions and the culture that ultimately promote things like this.”

“Our hope is not that this just goes away,” Johnson said. “Our hope is that we take this opportunity to asses our own community and climate, to have hard and serious conversations about where we’re at and to ask corresponding questions about how we grow, get better and heal our community. This is a very hard opportunity, but it is an opportunity.”

Barton did not respond to the Newswire’s requests for comment, and the names of those involved in hanging the skeleton have not been disclosed.

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