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‘Inexcusable’: Students’ photos, one in blackface, trigger backlash and university investigation

Students walk to class on the campus of the University of North Dakota on Dec. 4, 2003, in Grand Forks. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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The University of North Dakota is investigating two incidents involving racially charged photos that became public within a 48-hour period over the past week, university officials announced.

One of the photos is a selfie showing what appears to be four white female students in blackface. A caption on the photo reads “Black lives matter.” The women, who have been identified as UND students, strike a serious pose as they stare at the camera with a cold, expressionless look on their faces.

A day earlier, on Tuesday, three white students posted an image on Snapchat of themselves excitedly smiling and making a peace sign with the caption “locked the black b—-h out,” according to Valley News Live.

The photo appears to have been taken in a dorm room and one of the students is seen wearing a UND T-shirt.

Details about what prompted each group of white students to take the photos were not immediately available, but a public post on Facebook said the first incident began with three students stealing another student’s phone.

“My friend was not aware that they had done this and didn’t even realize they had put this on her snapchat story until another friend of ours pointed it out,” the Facebook post reads. “The University of North Dakota needs to take action against these students for this blatant act of racism.” (Since then, the post appears to have been deleted or its status changed to private.)

UND spokesman Peter Johnson told the Star Tribune that the individuals pictured in the images are students currently enrolled at the university.

According to university enrollment figures, 79 percent of the student body’s nearly 15,000 members are white and 2.5 percent are black.

The second image was also posted on Facebook by someone who tagged the university and wrote, “the problem is growing worse here at UND.”

University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy agreed, releasing a statement Thursday saying the has “much work to do”:

“I am appalled that within 48 hours two photos with racially-charged messages have been posted on social media and associated with the UND campus community,” the statement said. “It is abundantly clear that we have much work to do at the University of North Dakota in educating our students, and the entire University community on issues related to diversity, inclusion, and respect for others.”
“I have been disappointed to learn that we have people in our university community who don’t know that the kind of behavior and messaging demonstrated in these two photos is not ok, and that, in fact, it is inexcusable,” the statement added.

Kennedy’s statement said university police and the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities are investigating both incidents. Kennedy notes that observers would like a swift resolution, but urged patience so that investigators are able to “maintain the integrity of our policies and procedures by following due process.”

Kennedy also posted a statement on Instagram noting that, contrary to rumors on social media, none of the students pictured in the photos are university athletes.

He said he was personally shocked that the students’ actions could be considered “a joke.”

Kennedy said he is directing his team to research diversity education and find ways to make it a reality at the university.

“As I have said before, we value diversity and inclusion and take seriously respect for others as well as the exchange of different thoughts and ideas,” the statement said. “To achieve the vision of One UND, we must take steps to demonstrate these values across our university community.”


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