NORTON — News that a Wheaton College student apparently donned blackface during a Halloween party Friday night has left members of the school community stunned, afraid and, quite frankly, hurt, students of the school’s Black Student Association said Wednesday.
School officials confirmed they are investigating reports that a female soccer player dressed up as a black character from the movie “White Chicks” during a costume contest at a Halloween party in a residence hall Friday night.
A photo of the woman shows her dressed in a bald cap with a drawn-on goatee and makeup to make her skin look darker. Students say she was dressed up to portray actor Terry Crews’ role in the movie.
A screenshot of text messages sent to The Sun Chronicle also show the woman and another team member asked the team to remove photographs of the costume from social media after the party.
“Just in case any friends on snapchat gets offended cause that’s the last thing I would want to do,” the woman writes.
Another replies: “If people say anything (she) is tan and it was really bronzer people are just overreacting.”
Administrators said the student did not play in the Oct. 31 women’s soccer game, but there have been no official disciplinary findings or actions taken against the student thus far.
Meanwhile, more than 50 students gathered at Mary Lyon Hall Wednesday to say, as they wait for administrators to take action, they’re the ones left carrying the weight of the woman’s actions — even when they weren’t the ones in the wrong.
“It’s crazy how people on this campus have been saying, ‘You’re overreacting,’ or ‘You’re being over-dramatic, it’s just a costume,’” Kiana Taylor, 21, said.
“There are people in that room crying. Hurting. She should not be allowed to walk around campus right now. Why is she holding her head up high when we’re walking around like we did something wrong? As people of color we’re the ones left to deal with this.”
Wheaton President Dennis Hanno called Wednesday’s meeting to hear from students and discuss what could be done to prevent future incidents on campus.
But reporters from The Sun Chronicle were barred from entering the session, which administrators called a “private meeting,” even as a student streamed a video of the meeting on Facebook Live.
After the meeting several students said they thought administrators had taken proactive measures to try to prevent instances of cultural appropriation during the Halloween season: College-wide emails and posters plastered around campus asked students to think twice about what their costumes might portray.
“After all that, she still painted her face and went outside and thought it was funny,” Candice Appiah, 18, said. “It was an act of arrogance and ignorance. As students of color, particularly black students, it shows us we’re not safe on campus.”
Appiah said blackface was historically used to perpetuate hateful stereotypes of black individuals as “bastardized, inhuman, rapists and violent.”
Wearing it today “proves you don’t care about my feelings as a black person,” she said.
In an email to students Tuesday, Hanno called the costume offensive and inappropriate.
But many students called for the president to more strongly condemn the incident as an act of racism and take punitive action against the student. Some were skeptical that would happen.
“So many people in that room feel nothing will be done,” Taylor said. “That’s why we’re here. To hold someone accountable. I hope that this is a wake up call.”
Taylor said, in the past, she feels administrators have “tip-toed” around touchy subjects and swept things under the rug.
All of the students interviewed said racism is a problem at the college.
In 2015, hand-written fliers containing racial slurs, swastikas, threats and derogatory messages were posted on several dorm room doors.But it’s not Wheaton’s issue alone.
“There are race issues at every school,” Dami Olubusi, 19, said. “The issue is, the administration doesn’t do anything about it. It is the school’s responsibility to deal with the behavior of its students. I should not have to intervene — that’s the frustration we’re having.”
Administration spokesman Michael Graca said the college is investigating the incident through a conduct process that typically takes up to two weeks before a finding is made.
“We’re all disturbed by what took place over the weekend,” he said. “We have a lot of programs that emphasize inclusion, diversity and race, so when something like this happens, it’s disturbing. We realize that not all of what we’re trying to get across gets through to all students. Today’s private meeting was to talk about what else we can do. We do not condone this. It is offensive and racist.”
Many of the students also talked about inclusivity and diversity as a whole. Taylor said she was also disturbed to see students donning other offensive costumes as well, such as students dressed as blind people, homeless people or Mexicans.
“I don’t care who you are, we need to hold the whole community accountable,” she said.
But Taylor said the text messages between the soccer players exacerbated the hurt of the situation, making their actions seem almost intentional.
“They knew they were going to upset people and they did it anyways,” she said. “I understand there are processes that need to be done (by the school), but what about us? We need answers. We need immediate action.”
The Black Student Association will host a second, student-run forum to discuss the issue at 6 p.m., Thursday in Hindle Auditorium. Students, public and alumni are invited.