University of Oregon: Faculty member wore blackface to Halloween party

University of Oregon officials say 31 percent of the new students are from a minority group, that includes both freshman and transfer students. (SBG photos)

EUGENE, Ore. - A member of the law school faculty wore blackface to an off-campus Halloween party, the University of Oregon said in a letter to students, faculty and staff.

President Michael Schill and other university leaders wrote that "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."

The University Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity will determine whether or not this incident was a violation of university policy.

The identity of the faculty member involved has not been confirmed.

But several students who have taken classes from the instructor in question came to her defense as the topic become a subject of conversation on campus.

Some students described her as mindful and sensitive, and they don't think she would intentionally dress offensively.

"People make mistakes, and you know we have to have consequences for our mistakes," said a second year law student who appeared on camera but declined to give his name. "But at the same time people have a lot of good intentions sometimes and they don't really come across the way that the rest of society sees things."

Other students said faculty should know better.

"Whoever the faculty member was should have known that this is a pretty diverse school," said student Lillie Rose, "and with the race relations we have right now that was not the best thing to do."

Other students expressed outrage, saying blackface is offensive no matter the reasoning behind it.

The controversy comes just a few months after Oregon welcomed its most diverse freshman class ever.

Schill has been pushing for more diversity and inclusivity since he became president over a year ago, including a process that stripped the name of a former professor from a residence hall due to evidence of his leadership role in Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century.

Here is the text of the letter sent to the campus community:

President Michael Schill and other UO leaders sent the following message to campus Tuesday night committing to additional training and dialogue on racial issues following the actions of a faculty member at a Halloween party:
Students, Faculty, and Staff,
The University of Oregon has been made aware that a faculty member of the School of Law wore a costume that included blackface at a private, off-campus Halloween party that was attended by UO faculty members and students.
We condemn this action unequivocally as anathema to the University of Oregon’s cherished values of racial diversity and inclusion. 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.
The faculty member involved has apologized for the decision and has expressed concern about its potential impact on members of the community. Although the party occurred outside of the faculty member's official duties, the professor acknowledges that the costume choice was unacceptable under any circumstances.
We take seriously any complaints from members of our community, and we have referred this complaint to the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, which will determine whether this action could constitute a violation of university policy.
At a minimum, it illustrates the need for more training and dialogue on these critical issues. In support of this dialogue, the Division of Equity and Inclusion created a UO African American Workshop and Lecture Series to help increase understanding. Implicit bias training is now required for all faculty searches and this winter new trainings on micro-aggressions will be offered. We will continue to assess other trainings or opportunities we can employ to further educate our community.
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. This incident makes us even more determined to ensure that no member of the UO community feels isolated or alienated on this campus as a result of intentional or unintentional racist behavior.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law
Scott Coltrane
Provost and Senior Vice President
Yvette Alex Assensoh
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion
Michael Moffitt
Dean, School of Law
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