Editor’s Note: The Crimson has previously published several stories concerning a photo of a Samford student that included a racially offensive caption. No information obtained by or provided to The Crimson indicates that the student in the photo knowingly participated in creating, posting, or sharing the captioned photograph. To the extent that its stories have indicated erroneously that the student in the photograph was responsible for the Snapchat post, The Crimson is happy to clarify the facts for the record.
On Oct. 9, a Snapchat post included a Samford student after a spray tan with the caption: “We changing races tonight.” The photo spread across social media and was criticized by students and the university.
Samford University’s administration released a statement on Oct. 10, a day after the photo was posted, calling the photo “hurtful, inappropriate and highly offensive.” According to university officials, the student in the photo denies involvement.
Samford’s Black Student Union published a letter on Oct. 16 condemning the photo. Simultaneously, BSU along with eight other student organizations at the university submitted a petition to Samford’s administration requesting that the university make two policy changes in the wake of the incident.
Firstly, these organizations requested that Samford University’s president, Andrew Westmoreland, make a public statement concerning the incident. Westmoreland addressed the university on Oct. 17, the day following the petition’s creation, via an email statement.
“The past few days have reminded us that much progress remains to be achieved on campus and beyond as we seek racial understanding and reconciliation,” the statement reads in part. “Our hearts ache when pain is caused for others. We acknowledge that these issues are larger than one incident, so addressing the substance of our divisions requires, as is so often the case, extraordinary wisdom and time.”
The petition also calls for “an acknowledgement of responsibility from the two students involved in the posting of the offensive photo,” and completion of cultural competency and racial sensitivity classes. The students involved in the incident declined to comment.
Concerning university policy, the petition asks that Samford’s administration clearly state in the university’s code of values that Samford prohibits students from using slander, slurs, and/or insensitivity toward any Samford affiliate regardless of race, age, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability or any other marginalized group.
Lastly, the petition recommends that each of Samford’s colleges incorporate diversity and inclusion-focused classes into each department’s curriculum.
Theo Edwards-Butler, President of Samford’s Black Student Union, said the photo shocked her.
“I honestly didn’t believe that I would have to see something like this and so close to home, even though I didn’t know either of the girls that posted it,” Edwards-Butler said. “I just couldn’t believe that in 2019 the color of my skin is still considered a joke and ugly.”
Even though the university denounced the photo, Edwards-Butler said the university reacted too slowly following the incident and said she believes that the university needs to change how it responds to these situations in the future.
“I think that Samford reacted too slow and not enough. Unfortunately there were no solid and clear steps to take when something like this happens,” she said. “I think that Samford could have done a way better job when handling the situation. It would have made the students feel like the place that they call home wanted them there.”
Mia Banuelos, President of Samford’s Latino Student Organization, also co-signed the petition and said the photo has strained the university’s already damaged relationship with minority students. Banuelos agrees that Samford should change its policies for addressing these situations since this is not the first incident at the university.
“I just want people to understand why this is so bad. It’s a joke but you have to realize there are a lot of people here that already don’t feel like they fit in on this campus so when you do something like that, you are alienating a group that already has one foot out the door,” she said.
However, Banuelos said she hopes this petition will spark widespread positive change so relationships can begin being repaired.
“I hope this is the fire that lights up everybody and when an event like this happens I just hope there are reactions and positive steps are made,” she said.
According to Theo Edwards-Butler, one positive step is that the university could provide more programs and initiatives that stress diversity and inclusion for students.
“In the future Samford should do more when situations like this happen, because unfortunately this is not the first and I am sure this will not be the last. What Samford can do is put in place a system that helps break the cycle of ignorance, create more programing to teach about diversity and inclusion.”
Terry Pittman Jr., a second-year Cumberland law student and President of the Cumberland’s Black Law Students Association, agrees that Samford should take action.
“Samford should take necessary steps to not only sympathize with minority students but take tangible and intentional steps that lead to justice, change and equality for all students,” he said.
Pittman Jr. said the photo is especially relevant due to Samford being located in Birmingham, Alabama, which played a large role in the Civil Rights Movement.
“I was pretty shocked and a little bit disgusted because Birmingham has a long history with the Civil Rights Movement. You think people would educate themselves on that before coming to this city,” he said.
However, Pittman Jr. said several incidents like the one at Samford have occurred across the U.S in recent years. For example, Pittman Jr. cited the incident at Spain Park High School, a school in Hoover back in March. Several Spain Park students received backlash after a video surfaced of them saying racist remarks.
“The Spain Park incident should have been a warning. It seems like this type of behavior is being repeated,” he said.
Ultimately, Pittman Jr. said the the Samford photo is just a symptom of a larger racial divide in America, and that these issues cannot be ignored.
“Minority communities are hurting and when you think about what happened in Dallas I’m sure Anita Jenkins would’ve wanted to change her race that night,” he said. “If people say this is blown out of proportion imagine what was said about the (civil rights) marches.”