A University of Oregon law professor was placed on administrative leave Thursday after wearing a costume that included blackface to a Halloween party attended by faculty and students.
“We condemn this action unequivocally as anathema to the University of Oregon’s cherished values of racial diversity and inclusion,” the university’s president, Michael Schill, said in a written statement. “The use of blackface, even in jest at a Halloween party, is patently offensive and reinforces historically racist stereotypes. It was a stupid act and is in no way defensible.”
Many college officials warned students this fall, at a time when racial tensions are high, to think about their Halloween costumes to avoid offending others with cultural stereotypes.
The idea that a faculty member at the School of Law would wear blackface shocked students and others.
In a similar incident last year, the president of the University of Louisville apologized for wearing a stereotypical Mexican costume at a Halloween party.
The University of Oregon professor has apologized, Schill wrote, and the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity is determining whether the costume is a violation of university policy.
That led some to question whether the professor’s free speech was being hindered at a public university.
But some law professors called on their colleague to resign if the allegations are true. “It doesn’t matter what your intentions were. It doesn’t matter if it was protected by the First Amendment,” the letter signed by 23 faculty members said. “Blackface is patently offensive. It is overtly racist. It is wildly inappropriate. It reflects a profound lack of judgment. There is no excuse.
“We are angry that you would alienate our students, staff, and faculty of color. We are angry that you would destroy what others have worked hard to build.
“Your actions implicate all of us and our community.
“If you care about our students, you will resign. If you care about our ability to educate future lawyers, you will resign. If you care about our alumni, you will resign.”
The Black Student Union did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment from members.
The university declined to confirm the name of the professor, saying it is a personnel matter.
Schill, who is also a faculty member in the School of Law, said the incident shows the need for more training and dialogue on racial issues, and cited a workshop and lecture series. He said implicit bias training would be required for all faculty-search-committee members, and “new training on micro-aggressions” will be offered this winter.
“Bigotry and racism have no place in our society or at the UO. Providing a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive environment for all is one of the university’s top priorities. We have been working for more than a year with our students to further these objectives,” Schill wrote in the letter, which was also signed by other top leaders at the university.
Earlier this fall, the university announced that a dorm that honored a professor who had been a leader in the Ku Klux Klan would be renamed, responding to student protesters’ anger about the name.
More than 600 people had signed an online petition Thursday demanding the professor’s resignation, writing, “We alumni, faculty, staff, current students and greater community members are deeply offended and outraged. . . .”