The Tufts administration and community spoke out yesterday in response to an Instagram photo of a student in blackface that was circulated on social media.
On Wednesday night, a senior posted a selfie on their personal Instagram story in which the student was wearing a black face mask, a black sweatshirt and sunglasses, captioned “Yeezy 2020.” The student told the Daily in an email that the caption was intended to reference the futuristic, iconoclastic look of the Yeezy brand’s collection for next year. The brand was founded as a collaboration between Adidas and rapper Kanye West.
The student took down the photo when a friend privately alerted the student about the offensive nature of the post.
“Invoking blackface imagery was the farthest thing from my mind,” the student told the Daily in an email. “The post was very benign, clearly ignorant but never meant as blackface.”
Kenneth Postigo (E ‘17), a Tufts alum, reposted the image in the Tufts Class of 2020 Facebook group. Postigo told the Daily he had intended to bring the incident to everyone’s attention.
“I am usually not one to make an issue out of situations when I believe it isn’t something to be upset about,” the post read. “However, this is a perfect example of what isn’t okay to do in 2019. I ask you all to hopefully show some maturity and try to help this person see the implications of her actions through communication (in person, over coffee maybe) in order to bring peace and shine a light on the darkness, instead of being angry and ranting about this.”
He said his post was taken down the following day.
The student said that their post had not intended to cause any harm and apologized to those the student offended by the image.
“I am truly so sorry for all the pain this incident has caused in the Tufts community,” the student said. “As a foreign student, I am constantly learning about the progressive and forward-thinking culture that not only this school but also this country presents, and I hope to use this experience as a stepping-stone in learning more about how I can be a more aware and contributing member of this campus.”
This occurs at a time when instances of blackface are cropping up at institutions throughout the country, most recently at the University of Oklahoma and Poly Prep Country Day School, an elite independent school in New York City. Yesterday, Florida’s Secretary of State resigned after photos of him in blackface surfaced.
In an email sent to the Tufts community yesterday, University President Anthony Monaco referenced reports that a Tufts student had shared a photo of themselves in blackface and condemned the act, stressing that blackface has historical ties to racism and the oppression of people of color.
“I condemn this behavior in the most unambiguous terms possible. Racist expressions such as these are profoundly offensive and deeply hurtful,” Monaco said in the statement. “They contradict our values as a welcoming and inclusive community, and have no place at Tufts.”
A statement posted last night on the Tufts University Africana Center’s Instagram account (@tuftsafricana) addressed the incident as an act of “racialized aggression” occurring so soon after Monday’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, and urged members of the Africana community to seek support from each other. The statement was attributed to Africana Center Director Katrina Moore, Program Manager Domonique Johnson and Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate Africana Community Representative Sylvester Bracey, a junior.
The statement encouraged members of the Africana community to seek support and solidarity at a campus-wide meeting held yesterday at Breed Memorial Hall to debrief the incident, but also emphasized the importance of banding together.
“While there is value in talking to our peers and friends, this is a time that we can lean on each other as we work through our shock, pain, and frustration that this level of racialized aggression has made its way into our campus,” Moore, Johnson and Bracey said in the statement.
During a community-wide meeting on Thursday to address the incident of blackface within the Tufts student body, Mary Pat McMahon, the dean of student affairs, said that the incident had been reported to the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO).
The OEO will determine if the incident constitutes a violation of university policy and who is impacted by this violation, according to McMahon. The OEO will then send their report to the Office of Student Affairs (OSA), and either the OSA or the OEO will make a recommendation on how to proceed.
The university’s revised Code of Conduct, released in August of 2018, contains a non-discrimination statement and a section condemning “bias-motivated violations,” which are hate crimes motivated by characteristics such as race, gender, disability, sex and sexual orientation.
Postigo, the alum who originally re-posted the student’s Instagram photo, said he hopes the student does not face consequences.
“I’m glad President Monaco delivered a succinct email describing the history of blackface and that the school doesn’t support these actions,” Postigo told the Daily in an email. “Personally, I don’t think the administration should seek to punish this [person] because [the person] didn’t endanger anyone. I think academic environments should foster intellectual discussions and avoid homogenizing the ideological makeup of the school.”
The community-wide meeting on Thursday, which was announced by Tufts Student Life shortly after Monaco sent out his statement, was led by Robert Mack, associate provost and chief diversity officer.
Mack opened the meeting by condemning the blackface photo and listing diversity and inclusion as crucial Tufts values.
“After a review of that photo, we had great concern for our community,” Mack said. “Any racist action, any action that people take to shatter our community like this, is unacceptable.”
The meeting was attended by staff, students and faculty and lasted just under an hour and a half. It functioned as an open forum for Tufts community members to share their reflections on the incident, experiences as people of color at Tufts and concerns for the future.
The majority of the conversation, led by students and administrators, focused on the treatment of people of color at Tufts, especially in the classroom.
Undergraduate and graduate students called for more training related to recognizing racial discrimination for staff and faculty.
Students present at the meeting criticized Tufts’ inaction with regards to racism.
One student cited the recent departure of several faculty members of color as evidence of a greater problem at the university. Another said that Tufts’ values of diversity and inclusion are often unfulfilled in an academic setting.
“That diversity does not segue itself into the classroom,” this student said.
Other students asked that racial sensitivity training be implemented alongside orientation programming on sexual assault and alcohol use.
“We rely on the deans to support the mission of diversity and inclusion in their schools,” Mack said.
In an email to the Daily, Patrick Collins, the executive director of public relations for the university, said the purpose of the meeting was to begin a conversation and connect students with resources.
“It’s the beginning of a community response, and we will be working to create ongoing opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to come together and discuss how our community should move forward,” he said. “We will continue to find opportunities for our community to learn from this incident and to emerge from it stronger.”
During the meeting, one student expressed their frustration with the Tufts’ response to racism in the past.
“Tufts does not see itself or act as an anti-racist institution,” they said.