Sound Off for September 2nd: Whitworth students pose in blackface. Thoughts?

Sound Off for September 2nd: Whitworth students pose in blackface. Thoughts?

A social media post from students at Whitworth University is getting backlash online by people asking the university to respond.

An Instagram post showing members of the Whitworth University women’s soccer players dressed up in blackface and afro wigs surfaced on social media Tuesday. The caption read: “Oh baby, give me one more chance. #Jackson5 #thisiswhitworthsoccer.” 

The photo was shared multiple times on Whitworth University President Beck A. Taylor’s Facebook page, urging the administration to respond.

The university responded quickly.

“We understand how offensive and damaging blackface is to a number of people, many racial backgrounds, of course particularly to African-Americans,” said Whitworth’s Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dr. Lawrence Burnley.

Burnley explained the issue goes beyond five students dressing in blackface. It’s also about a lack of awareness of our country’s history of oppression.

“In talking to some students, they have shared with me, personally, that they were not aware of the history of blackface,” Burnley said. “Now, for some that’s hard to believe. How can you not be aware of this history? And if, in fact, you are not – and I believe some people quite frankly are not – what does that say about [our] educational system? I’m not talking about Whitworth. I’m talking about education in the United States.”

Burnley said these students will be held accountable for this incident.

“The students I spoke with who are involved in this are contrite, they are remorseful, and we don’t believe there was intention to hurt or harm,” he explained. “But again, and I want this to be clear, it does not diminish the impact that it is having on people both here and beyond Whitworth’s campus, so persons need to be held responsible for that.”

Moving forward, Burnley says the university will use this incident as a teaching tool.

“How are we positioning our students to engage and serve humanity if they’re not exposed to their stories and narratives, particularly those of suffering in this country?” Burnley said.

 Whitworth responded on its Facebook page Tuesday afternoon with the following statement:

Statement from Dr. Larry Burnley: Dear campus community,

Whitworth University is imbued by its Christ-centered mission that informs our value for diversity and our demonstrated commitment to providing students, faculty, staff and guests with an environment that is safe, welcoming and respectful of all cultures and identities. Our nation and our world experience daily the pain and marginalization felt by people of diverse social backgrounds and identities.

It has been brought to the university’s attention that several students from our women’s soccer team dressed in blackface and with afro wigs in an attempt to depict the musical group The Jackson 5 at an informal event held at a local bowling alley last evening. Photos from the event were posted on a personal Facebook page. Constituents from both the campus and external communities have expressed concern with the photo’s content.

The student who posted the photo has since removed it and expressed remorse for the insensitivity of the decision to dress in this manner. The administration is taking further steps to examine the developments around the students’ decision to engage in this insensitive act. It is critical that the student body and Whitworth community learn from this behavior and consider not only the real or perceived intent of such actions, but also the detrimental impact they have on members of our community, regardless of intent.

Whitworth has absolutely no tolerance for the type of behavior demonstrated. Moved and driven by our mission, President Beck A. Taylor has recently said, “Whitworth’s commitment to diversity stems from a Christ-centered heritage that compels us to love justice and to treat every individual equally with respect and compassion. It is through the inclusion and experiences of others, often from diverse viewpoints, that we often see more clearly dimensions of life different than our own.”

Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have further questions or concerns regarding this situation.


Lawrence Burnley
Associate Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Chief Diversity Office

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