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Outrage at two Georgia colleges after students’ racist posts

For generations, decade after decade, elite white families from across the South sent their daughters to Wesleyan College in Macon — the first chartered women’s college in the country founded in 1836. But wrapped in its traditions is a racist legacy, including overt ties to the Ku Klux Klan. The yearbook in the early 1900s was called the Ku Klux and some classes identified with the Klan — calling themselves the Ku Klux Klan of 1909 or 1913. COPY PHOTO
For generations, decade after decade, elite white families from across the South sent their daughters to Wesleyan College in Macon — the first chartered women’s college in the country founded in 1836. But wrapped in its traditions is a racist legacy, including overt ties to the Ku Klux Klan. The yearbook in the early 1900s was called the Ku Klux and some classes identified with the Klan — calling themselves the Ku Klux Klan of 1909 or 1913. COPY PHOTO

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly included mention of a student athlete who withdrew from school after using a racial epithet. The student did not attend either of the two Georgia colleges mentioned in this story.

Students, administrators and graduates of two Georgia schools expressed their outrage Friday after white, female students posted racist comments and images on their social media pages.

Wesleyan College on Thursday expelled a student for posting statements such as “Bear down on these (expletives),” using a racial slur to demean African Americans.

Georgia Southern University wrote a message Friday condemning “inappropriate and offensive social media posts” after a white woman, identified on social media as a student, posted a picture of herself in blackface with the caption “to quote rosa parks. nah.”

Georgia Southern declined to say if any disciplinary action has been taken, citing privacy laws.

The schools did not name the students, and efforts to contact them were unsuccessful Friday. Wesleyan alumnae said the woman deleted her Instagram account. Its president, Vivia Fowler, declined comment about the matter in an email Friday.

The posts come amid nationwide protests against racism and police brutality against African Americans, sparked by the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Both schools have large African American enrollments. One-quarter of Georgia Southern’s 26,000 students are black, state data shows. One-third of Wesleyan’s 765 students are black, federal data shows.

Each school, though, has had a history of involvement in racist rituals and discrimination and has faced additional racially charged controversies in recent years.

A 2019 Atlanta Journal-Constitution report found yearbook photos through the 1950s and early 1960s of Georgia Southern students in blackface. Georgia Southern, whose main campus is in Statesboro, said in its statement Friday it will schedule listening sessions for students, faculty and alumni, among other initiatives to improve inclusiveness on its campuses.

At Wesleyan, the nation's oldest women's college, students celebrated the Ku Klux Klan through class names and hazing rituals passed down from one class to the next beginning in the early 20th century and continuing for generations. The college, located in Macon, made a formal apology for such acts in 2017 and vowed to make changes, but several graduates said in online discussion boards and in interviews Friday that Wesleyan's initial response to this most recent social media incident shows the school is slow in addressing racism with conviction.

Alumnae shared messages they say were sent earlier Thursday from the college that referenced its Freedom of Expression policy that condemns intolerant speech and that it could not discuss its investigation of the student’s posts. One began “We are living in a strange time,” referencing the few people on campus because of the coronavirus pandemic. The college posted later Thursday on social media that the student was expelled.

“These posts are abhorrent to us and a gross violation of Wesleyan’s mission and values,” the college wrote on Instagram. “Such values have no place on our campus or within our community and we will act decisively when confronted by them. As soon as we were made aware of this information, we launched an investigation that led to the expulsion of the student, effective immediately. Wesleyan will not tolerate racist behavior in any form.”

Lisa Stamey, a 1993 graduate who is white, said the college’s initial response “looked like they were in that gray space, like they were giving cover” to the student. Judi Durand, who is black and was its 1995 class president, said Wesleyan’s leadership is tied too closely to older donors reluctant to aggressively address discrimination.

“They’re invested in their racial tradition,” Durand said.