“I agree with the punishment,” Barber’s mother, Jill Barbera, told NJ.com. (Mother and daughter spell the last name differently.)
“This is not a reflection of how she was raised. She’s just degrading herself and it breaks my heart,” Barber’s mother said. “I hope someone can look at this and learn. I don’t want anyone to feel what I feel.”
The university’s decision to expel Barber because of the videos, which were packed with racial slurs, have opened questions about free speech and whether a public institution can remove a student for using offensive language. Barber’s sorority, Alpha Phi, also dismissed her.
In the first video, Barber stands in front of a bathroom sink and says, “We do not waste water . . . because of the poor people in Syria.” She then says, “I love how I act like I love black people,” before using racial slurs.
A second video was posted Monday in response to people who were upset by the language she used in the first. She threatened those who wanted to report her fake Instagram account to her sorority for using racist language. She said that she “doesn’t care if it’s Martin Luther King Day” before repeating a racial slur more than half a dozen times.
Barber, who could not be reached by The Washington Post for comment, apologized Wednesday in the New York Post and said she was preparing to return to her family in Marlton, N.J.
“I did something really, really bad,” Barber said in a telephone interview with the newspaper. “I don’t know what to do, and I feel horrible. I’m wrong, and there’s just no excuse for what I did. . . . I feel so, so bad, and I am so sorry.”
Jill Barbera has not lived with her daughter since December 2016, when Barber was forced out after months of arguing, according to NJ.com. Barber has since lived with her paternal grandmother.
The mother spoke to her daughter for the first time in a year on Wednesday, the same day the university announced her expulsion, she told NJ.com. Barber’s mother said she never heard her daughter use racial slurs or make derogatory statements similar to those she made in the videos.
Jill Barbera is worried about her daughter’s safety, but also about that of her other daughter, who is 10 years old and attends school in a town that will likely talk about the incident for years to come, she told NJ.com. The mother has received messages on social media from people attacking her, saying she is responsible for Barber’s actions.
The University of Alabama’s president, Stuart R. Bell, said in a statement Wednesday that the videos were “highly offensive and deeply hurtful” and that he was disgusted and disappointed by Barber’s actions.
“The actions of this student do not represent the larger student body or the values of our University,” he wrote. “We hold our students to much higher standards, and we apologize to everyone who has seen the videos and has been hurt by this hateful, ignorant and offensive behavior. This is not who we are.”
“They are offensive and hateful to both our own members and to other members of the Greek and campus community. The [University of Alabama] chapter leadership and supporting alumnae moved quickly to address the offense, and Ms. Barber is no longer a member of Alpha Phi,” said Linda Kahangi, executive director of Alpha Phi International.
But Barber’s removal from a public university has raised questions of the constitutionality of dismissing a student for using offensive speech.
Three civil rights activists who previously worked for the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Bell on Thursday asking him to rescind Barber’s expulsion. While they were “dismayed and disgusted” by the videos, they wrote, her punishment was “unconstitutional, un-strategic and likely to be ineffective.”
They wrote that the expulsion was likely an “emotional reaction” to the videos but that the University of Alabama should adhere to the First Amendment’s protection of hate speech. They suggested the university instead arrange a meeting between Barber and the university’s notable black alumni, such as New York Giants strong safety Landon Collins. Collins had expressed interest in speaking with Barber.
“It would be a more imaginative, less constitutionally dangerous and more educational initiative,” wrote Ira Glasser, former executive director of the ACLU; Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union; and Michael Meyers, president and director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. “And if it worked, it would be redemptive, and a triumph for you and the University.”
Jill Barbera told NJ.com that her daughter attended Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill. A former student there, Oriana Walker, who is black, told NJ.com that she was acquainted with Harley Barber and would not have associated with her had she heard her use racist language.
“Her words were very ignorant,” Walker said. “I don’t know what to say, I wasn’t angry at first, I was just very shocked. I just sat there listening to the video.”