Emory University to create commission to review racist yearbook photos

The entrance to Emory University’s campus. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The entrance to Emory University’s campus. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Emory University announced Wednesday it plans to create a commission to review racist photos primarily printed decades ago in its student yearbooks.

“Recent events in the national news have generated a growing public interest in the presence of disturbing photos in college yearbooks,” the university’s president, Claire E. Sterk, wrote in an email to students, staff and others. “It greatly saddens me to report that an initial review of Emory University yearbooks has found photos that are inconsistent with our values.”

Sterk wrote the commission will assess how Emory “depicted differences in our community—through our traditions, our publications, and other forms of communication.” Sterk wrote that she will release more details before the end of this semester.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contacted Emory earlier this week after reviewing several decades of yearbooks and discovering some photos of white students in blackface. Most of the photos were in the 1960s. Many colleges and universities have grappled with yearbook images in recent weeks after Virginia’s governor and attorney general admitted to wearing blackface during their college days.

Sterk wrote Emory will not remove the yearbooks from a website where they’re located.

“The offensive and racist images in our yearbooks cannot be erased any more than they can be forgotten. They are a permanent part of our record,” she wrote. “Much as I despise what those images represent, I think it is important that Emory’s yearbooks continue to be accessible online. It is my fervent hope that they will serve as an indelible reminder to all current and future Emory students, faculty, and staff of the type of ignorance and hate we must passionately oppose.”