Two female students dressed in blackface for a club’s party last Tuesday, upsetting a portion of Lee’s student body after pictures were posted on social media sites.
Blackface is dark theatrical makeup used to make the wearer look like they have black skin. Historically, white performers used the makeup to portray black characters. The shows often depicted black people in negative ways.
The two female students, both white, used the makeup, along with loose white T-shirts that read “My N**ga,” for costumes. They were attending Theta Delta Kappa’s dessert party.
Leaders of Umoja, a black student association on campus, were upset with the photo, but said they didn’t think it was that serious because the girls did it out of ignorance of blackface history.
“Blackface is highly offensive, and it’s sad to see that it is still something to be laughed at even in 2013,” Alyssa Turner, vice president of Umoja, said.
JJ Williamson, a member of Theta and friends with the two students, explained to the Clarion that the theme of the party was rap songs, and the two chose to portray the song “My N**ga” by YG.
But Williamson, who is black himself, found the girls’ costumes entertaining.
“Everybody [at the party] found it to be hilarious and the best costume of the night, myself included,” Williamson said. “I know these girls and I know they aren’t racist or hateful. They were just making a joke.”
The two female students and Kyle Smith, the president of Theta, all declined to comment.
Vice President of University Relations Jerome Hammond called the incident “profoundly regrettable” and “deeply hurtful to many people” in statement.
“The important years spent at a university are a time of transition from careless childhood to responsible adulthood,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, students sometimes find themselves in the glare of public scrutiny as they learn to be citizens of the world. We are confident that some difficult lessons have been learned as a result of these impulsive actions.”
The pictures were pulled from Twitter after the backlash.
“Recently a picture was sent out on social media of me and a friend, and we want to apologize. Our intention was not to offend anyone in any way. Therefore we are deeply sorry for those we have upset,” the note read.
The female students both tweeted out an apology Saturday.
Porshia Cunningham, a black student at Lee, was part of a Twitter argument involving Williamson, other students and alumni. She told the Clarion she was upset because she thought the girls’ costumes were unnecessarily offensive.
“If they wanted to impersonate a rapper, they could have imitated Macklemore,” Cunningham said. “There are so many other ways they could’ve [dressed up].”
Cunningham also said that to her the Greek community on campus seemed upset about the picture getting out, but didn’t seem apologetic for the costumes themselves. But she said that she’s not out to attack anyone.
“As a Christian community, we prepare our students for resistance and tension and different conversations with nonbelievers and even believers. And they teach us how to challenge our own faith and our own beliefs. But I think we should broaden that to larger ethical issues, to conversations about race and diversity.”
Cunningham said faculty and administrative officials she told at Lee were disturbed by the incident.
Tanisha Ellis, the president of Umoja, said the girls’ costumes weren’t “humorous or acceptable.”
But both Ellis and Turner said they feel like it’s an opportunity to create a dialogue about the issue.
“I don’t think, and would hope that they didn’t mean it, to be offensive by their actions,” Ellis said. “Hopefully they will have a better understanding of what blackface is, and learn from their mistakes. “