Snapchat photo in blackface draws quick condemnation from university

Twitter user Desmund Weathers retweeted this photo Paige Shoemaker, front, posted on Snapchat. The photo also included the n-word. Shoemaker apologized. By Thursday afternoon, she was no longer a student at the school in Manhattan.
Twitter user Desmund Weathers retweeted this photo Paige Shoemaker, front, posted on Snapchat. The photo also included the n-word. Shoemaker apologized. By Thursday afternoon, she was no longer a student at the school in Manhattan. Twitter

Kansas State University officials issued a statement Thursday morning saying “there is no place for racism at our university” after a woman initially identified as a student posted a Snapchat photo of herself in apparent blackface and used the n-word.

A second statement from the school on Thursday afternoon said the student is no longer a student there.

University spokesman Jeff Morris told the Associated Press that neither of the women in the photo are students. He said one woman attended last spring but was not enrolled this fall.

The photo was tagged to the school’s Facebook page and was taken down because it was considered inappropriate.

The photo, which appeared on Snapchat, quickly made the rounds on social media, where it unleashed a torrent of anger from other students. One tweet from senior software engineering major Desmund Weathers has been retweeted more than 5,000 times.

Weathers told USA Today that he posted the photo on Twitter “to not only vent a little but to show people that this mentality still exists on Kansas State’s campus.”

He told the paper that when the school’s Black Student Union held a “die-in” after the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., some students posted racial slurs on Yik Yak, a social media app that allows users to post anonymously.

In text messages sent to the online magazine Fusion, Paige Shoemaker, identified as a K-State sophomore, confirmed that she was one of the two people in the photo. University officials said the other woman in the picture is not a student.

Shoemaker said she posted the picture Tuesday night and was wearing a clay facial mask at the time.

“It was sent in a joking manner to our friends,” Shoemaker told Fusion. “I am the least racist and most accepting person you will meet. Never would I send it in a derogatory way.”

Late Thursday afternoon, Shoemaker posted a public apology for the incident on her Facebook page, according to The Collegian student newspaper at K-State. She named the other woman in the photo.

“I want to formally apologize for the picture that has gone viral …We clearly understand that what was said and done was completely disrespectful,” Shoemaker wrote.

“We never intended for the picture to offend anyone. We had only meant for it to be taken in a funny way, but we clearly understand that what we said should never be joked around about.”

K-State officials did not take it as a joke. On Thursday morning, Pat Bosco, vice president for student life and dean of students, issued a letter to students, faculty and staff saying the K-State community “must do better and we will do better.”

“I have become aware that one of our students posted a racially offensive photo today on social media and used one of the most derogatory words in the English language,” Bosco wrote.

“This photo has students, faculty, staff and other members of the K-State family upset. It rightly should, as there is no place for racism at our university, regardless of what the intentions may have been.

“K-State prides itself on being one family, no matter your race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or abilities. All members of the K-State family deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

On Thursday afternoon, a letter to the K-State community from Zelia Wiley, interim associate provost for diversity, announced that “the involved person is no longer enrolled at the university.”

Sorority Zeta Tau Alpha posted a statement on its Facebook page on Thursday, too, that said Shoemaker is no longer a member.

The Collegian reported that Shoemaker had been expelled from the organization in the spring of 2015.

“While she did join the Beta Upsilon Chapter at Kansas State University in 2013, she was expelled from the chapter and is no longer affiliated with the organization,” the sorority wrote. “Her words and actions certainly do not reflect the values and principles of Zeta Tau Alpha.”

K-State moved much more quickly to address the situation than officials at the University of Missouri did last fall when racial unrest and protests broke out on the Columbia campus. MU’s athletic department is still dealing with the fallout as it recruits student-athletes.

What happened at MU prompted protests over the lack of diversity and inclusion at the University of Kansas, too, where a group charged with analyzing diversity and inclusion on the Lawrence campus released a report in April calling for reforms to university policies, procedures and practices.

Wiley described an all-hands-on-deck reaction when school officials heard about the photo on Thursday.

“Immediately upon notification, the Campus Climate Response Team, or CCRT, which consists of representatives from the Office of Diversity, Office of Institutional Equity, Office of Student Life, the K-State Student Union and Division of Communications and Marketing, met to address this recent social media posting,” Wiley wrote.

“This racially offensive photo with a derogatory message has upset the K-State family and is not in concert with our principles of community. Such messages on social media are harmful to all.”

“As an integral part of the response to this concern, the university will offer support services to any affected student and also will contact the involved parties. This incident supports our continued proactive outreach and cultural training efforts to the students, faculty and staff.”

The incident grabbed national attention on Twitter, with actress Gabrielle Union sounding off on it.

Bosco’s statement complimented the school’s Black Student Union “and its efforts and legacy of addressing these issues in an effective and pragmatic way, pointing out the school’s work in the areas of diversity and inclusion.”

“Even with these initiatives, we obviously still have work to do,” Bosco wrote. “We must do better, and we will do better.”

In a story that evolved very quickly over just a few hours, the school’s Black Student Union released a statement late Thursday afternoon urging K-State to “take the stance that (Shoemaker) is no longer welcomed back at any future date.”

The students also said the Snapchat was not an isolated incident but part of a systemic issue with part of the K-State student body and called for several things, including a multicultural student center on campus and adding an anti-racism policy to the student code of conduct.