Julia M. Snyder
Diversity is an integral part of any community on a college campus.
The one thing students all share is the desire to become educated; however, the diversity among peers on campus is what allows students to better themselves as people as well as receive an education. Millersville University is a campus that individuals of all ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, religions and sexual orientations call home.
Last Wednesday, Millersville senior Rasheed Wesley posted a picture taken from picture-sharing application Snapchat, featuring two caucasian female students with dark facial treatment masks and text over the photo which said: “Young, black and proud.”
Since Wesley posted the picture on Facebook and Twitter, it has been shared over 500 times and has been brought to the attention of the student body and the university administration.
The university administration has made it clear that the insensitivity displayed through the image of two young women in blackface is not something that will be tolerated.
Blackface originated in the 1820s and stemmed from white actors who wore dark makeup to portray slaves during theatrical productions. The characters were exaggerated to be incredibly offensive and furthered the belief in the degrading stereotypes that the actors included in their skits.
Wesley said he received the picture from an acquaintance early in February. Although he was immediately upset by the meaning behind the image, he delayed his reaction to ensure that it was logical and would lead to the most effective solution.
“I was trying to find the most effective way to handle it,” said Wesley. “I really sat down and thought about what I wanted to say… and what kind of call to action I wanted to make.”
After much deliberation, Wesley said he decided that posting the image on Facebook with a thorough explanation of the cultural implications was his best opportunity to educate people about why the image should be considered offensive.
“There is so much more that can be done and there’s so much more that is going to be done,” said Wesley.
The Center for Student Involvement and Leadership was full to capacity on the following Thursday, March 2nd. Although the Senate meeting was a regularly held meeting, so many students attended this particular Thursday night to discuss the controversial picture.
A diverse portion of the Millersville student body were in attendance to speak about how the image made them feel uncomfortable, or to offer ideas for a solution and support for those who were offended by the image. Many students reported feeling unsafe and unrepresented on campus and listed this incident as just one example of the ignorance that causes that discomfort. As the conversation began building, students explained that the discomfort largely stems from a feeling of under-representation on campus, as well as instances of targeted racial slurs during private conversations.
Justin Pierre, Student Senate President, opened the discussion with a prepared statement.
“Millersville University is struggling right now. The campus is hurting and we as a community are left with that pain. The image is devastating and heartbreaking. We all have hurt in our hearts and questions in our minds,” said Pierre.
The discussion lasted for over an hour; both students and faculty members were adamant that the discussion should include any further issues or discomfort that should be brought to the attention of senate and the administration. Despite a few moments of heated conversation, students were respectful of all individuals who decided to speak up.
Many community members stepped forward to offer support for those that said they were afraid, and there were many members of the audience who were moved to tears by testimonies given in support of those who had been subject to discrimination.
There were no comments made from the young women who were in the picture that started these conversations, but one student, Emily Steele, did step forward to speak on behalf of her friends.
Steele did not stand up to defend her friends’ actions, but rather to offer their apologies.
She explained that the post was not made in hate and that only a handful of individuals saw the post before the girls removed it and were reprimanded by some of those individuals that saw it.
According to Steele, both young women in the picture are hoping to apologize but were unsure of how to make up for their mistake. At the end of her contribution, a member of NAACP offered to help the girls draft a public apology.
The young women declined to comment on the incident.
From the Administration
Vice President of Student Affairs, Brian Hazlett, addressed this incident, stating, “Millersville University does not support or condone any kind of insensitive behavior; it is not what we stand for as a University.”
Hazlett spoke on the subject at the Student Senate meeting on Thursday night and sent out a follow-up email to reiterate the university’s position on racial insensitivity. Hazlett appeared to be greatly dismayed at the actions of the two community members in the picture, and informed those in attendance at CSIL that the two young women will be subject to a full investigation through the office of Judicial Affairs.
“It’s hateful speech, it’s not part of this community,” said Hazlett. “I don’t tolerate this… When I came here, there were parts of Millersville University that made me proud, and what has happened is not one of them.”
When asked what the university planned to do about this incident, Hazlett stated “It would go through the due process that we have for students here and there’s an array of outcomes that could come from that. We don’t know the details from all parties involved so we don’t know what the outcome could be.”
The Millersville University community has started this conversation, and the administrators, such as Hazlett said that they believe the key is to keep discussing actions and topics that cause discomfort among peers.
“Momentum, we need to allow the momentum to continue,” said Hazlett.
In order to keep that momentum and educate the community members on subjects that could prevent future incidents, the University has planned a series of initiatives to celebrate and educate on diversity on campus.
These initiatives will present themselves in a variety of events, including discussions and forums on campus.
Student Senate has also issued a statement to the student body via email to reinforce that students are welcome to contact their senate members to alert them of further issues or concerns.
Justin Pierre, Student Senate President also handed out his personal contact information to students who had been particularly vocal during the meeting and stated that he planned to stay in the office for the remainder of the night to start working on resolutions to the issues that had been brought to light during the meeting.
“The student body of Millersville University is one of integrity and virtue. Please don’t let it get lost in the ignorance of a few,” said Pierre. “Don’t let the conversation die…. Stand up for who you are. Stand up for you neighbor so that they may stand up for you.”