A controversial image of school spirit was posted to Pacific University’s Twitter account on Sept. 27, depicting three male students in body paint.
To some members of the Pacific community, the painted students appeared to be depicting black face and red face. A historically degrading and dehumanizing way to imitate African Americans and Native Americans.
The student shown on the right side of the posted image had “Boxer Pride” written on his chest and abdomen in red, black and white paint. The student in the middle of the image had his body covered in black paint with a red “P” painted on his abdomen. And the student on the left side of the image had his body covered entirely in red paint and black accents.
The post was inviting alumni to register for a tailgate event at this year’s upcoming Homecoming weekend.
According to Vice President of University Advancement Cassie Warman, the photograph was chosen because it portrayed former students with school spirit at a previous tailgate event.
“It was insensitive of us to use that photo in a way to promote school spirit,” Warman said.
The image was taken down about an hour after it was first posted, after Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Sarah Phillips contacted Warman.
Warman said there were about a dozen images similar to the one posted on Sept. 27 in the university’s photo archive, that have since been removed following this incident.
Though the students shown in this photo may not have intended to be offensive with their actions, the image had a harmful impact on some students of color at Pacific.
“The image sent a message that students of color didn’t matter,” Narce Rodriguez, director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion said. “When it comes to spirit paint, there needs to be a sense of responsibility and awareness.”
The university sent a letter of apology to the Pacific community via email on Sept. 28. The letter was also posted on the Pacific’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The letter said, “We failed to recognize that the image evokes the oppressive history of blackface, a practice that draws upon oppressive stereotypes of black individuals. Although the impact of this image may be different for each of us, it is important that we all recognize the history of blackface in the United States.”
The Undergraduate Student Senate hosted an open forum on Monday Oct. 8 to have a discussion about the photo.
“It’s a very important dialogue that we need to have as a university,” Warman said.