Three professors at the University of South Alabama are facing heat for what increasingly appears to be something a disturbing segment of American educators enjoy practicing: racism.
As reported by CNN, Bob Wood, Alex Sharland and Teresa Weldy, all professors at the university, have been placed on leave after pictures of them wearing slavery-themed Halloween costumes in 2014 recently resurfaced.
The pictures, which had been on the school’s Facebook page for years before being deleted in 2020, show Wood dressed in a Confederate uniform complete with a hat emblazoned with the Confederate flag. Sharland wears a white-haired wig while wielding a whip and a noose, the latter of which Weldy is seen holding in front of her face. Combined, the heinous imagery is an obvious reference to the brutal enslavement and lynching of Black people in American history, especially in the South.
Tellingly, the three professors—two of whom are tenured at the University of South Alabama—showed up with the disturbing props at an on-campus party at the school’s Mitchell College of Business, according to the Washington Post.
In a public statement, University President Tony Waldrop admitted that the school had been aware of the pictures before WKRG-TV in Alabama first reported on them last week, and bravely acknowledged that the administration’s response to it hadn’t been sufficient.
“The actions the University took in response to these pictures, which were photographed at an on-campus party in 2014 and brought to the attention of University leadership in 2020, should have been stronger and broader, and should have more strongly demonstrated an unwavering commitment to a safe and welcoming environment for every member of our community,” said Waldrop, who added that the school’s leadership is sorry to everyone who is “rightfully hurt and offended by these images.”
Students have since launched a petition calling for the three professors to be fired. Meanwhile, Waldrop says the school will engage Suntrease Williams-Maynard, who was a U.S. assistant attorney and formerly worked with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to conduct an investigation into how the University handled the incident. He also wants every member of the school to “reflect on the incident” and come up with ideas about how they can do better in the future.
“We cannot, should not and will not attempt to erase our past failings,” he said. Although that sounds like exactly what the school did in the case of these photos—until they were forced to acknowledge the issue publicly by media reports.
Waldrop’s hollow statements don’t even come close to the ridiculous ones offered by the perpetrators though, one of whom said walking around with a whip and noose was an “attempt at humor” that was not intended to offend.
“In retrospect, I can see why someone might find the image hurtful, and I regret this attempt at humor that clearly failed. It was not my intent to hurt or be offensive, and if anyone is offended by this picture I apologize.” said Sharland. “I have learned from this experience.”
Isn’t that lovely? He’s learned. Meanwhile, I still have questions: Does this educated man from the South expect us to believe he didn’t know the meaning of the tools of racial terrorism that he was brandishing? And who did he believe would find it humorous—because it surely could not have been the survivors of that racial terrorism? Does he believe his learning about racism while helping create a hostile environment for Black students is what higher education is for?
Professor Wood, who was named dean of the Mitchell College of Business the same year he donned the Confederate general costume there, issued an apology.
“Seven years ago, I rented and wore a last-minute costume that was ill-conceived to a faculty and student Halloween costume contest, at which I served on a panel of judges to select the winners,” said Wood, who has since been demoted from his deanship. “I regret the decision, and I understand the hurtful nature of these symbols, which do not reflect my beliefs. I have learned from this error, and I am committed to doing better in the future.”
The female professor pictured grinning while peering through a noose has “chose[n] not to apologize,” says WKRG.