Three professors from the University of South Alabama (USA) were placed on leave after photos of them dressed in racially insensitive costumes at a Halloween party resurfaced last week.
The photos show then-Dean of the university’s college of business and current finance professor Bob Wood dressed as a Confederate soldier, while fellow professors Alex Sharland and Teresa Weldy posed with a whip and noose during a 2014 on-campus Halloween party.
The photos, deleted from Facebook, resurfaced in a student petition calling out the professors and calling for their termination because of their display of “blatantly racist symbols of hatred and violence towards the African-American community.”
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Dozens of angry USA students protested to condemn the photographs on Friday. Unsatisfied with the school’s decision to place the professors on leave, they are demanding more severe action. The petition calling for the professors’ termination has collected over 2,500 signatures so far.
“We are calling for the University of South Alabama to terminate these employees in order to demonstrate that racism has no place on our campus,” the petition states.
Kaya Wilkinson, president of the campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the university has not taken swift action despite the knowledge that many students feel “uncomfortable” with the three professors being on campus.
Responding to growing criticism from USA students, President Tony Waldrop stated that the university has launched an internal investigation. “The faculty members involved have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation and any related proceedings,” Waldrop said.
Professors Wood and Sharland have issued written apologies. “In retrospect I can see why someone might find the image hurtful, and I regret this attempt at humor that clearly failed. It was not my intent to hurt or be offensive, and if anyone is offended by this picture I apologize,” Sharland told Inside HigherEd.
The administration is now waiting until the internal review is complete to arrive at a conclusion.
“Our response is that we’ll do everything we can to make the system better,” Waldrop said to Fox10TV. “However, my hands are tied as far as taking immediate action.”