A student’s Snapchat screenshot shared on social media Saturday sparked outrage throughout the UA community and has led students to demand action from UA officials.
The photo showed freshman Jacob Edwards in a dark face mask with the caption, “I hope this offends someone,” and a “Wakanda Forever” filter from the newly-released “Black Panther” film.
UA officials are aware of the Snapchat screenshot and are investigating the incident through the Code of Student Life, said Mark Rushing, assistant vice chancellor for UA Relations.
Discrimination against any member of the UA community through offensive behavior of a biased or prejudicial nature related to an individual’s personal characteristics violates the UofA’s
policies prohibiting discrimination, according to the UA Code of Student Life. Violators are subject to officials’ sanctions and may incur more significant punishment depending on the severity of the offense.
“The existence of messages like this show that we have work to do,” Rushing said. “We are appreciative of the students who reported this activity to appropriate university staff so that it could be addressed.”
Some students took to social media to address their anger at Edwards.
“[Jacob Edwards is] a coward, racist and needs to be punished,” said a UA student with the user name TaylorMonea_ in a tweet.
The UA chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha also tweeted its members’ disapproval of the screenshot.
“Blackface is LITERALLY the earliest and most deep rooted form of racism and we will NOT tolerate it, especially on our own campus!” the tweet said.
Another student with the username raevynn_ expressed her disappointment with officials’ reaction in a tweet.
“This is Fayetteville. What have they done about it? Nothing,” raevynn_ said in a tweet.
Edwards regrets posting the photo with the caption but does not think that the response about the photo he has received is justified, he said in a Facebook message.
“Offense is taken, not given, and I did nothing illegal,” Edwards said in the message. “The threats I’ve received for assault and alluding to my death, however, are very illegal. I am willing to make a public apology to attempt reprimanding the situation. But I am in no way responsible for how people interpret me or my actions. That’s all up to them.”
Edwards thinks he is being cyberbullied in response to the shared photo, he said.
Cyberbullying is a Class A misdemeanor, and a person commits cyberbullying if they send or post electronically with the purpose to frighten, threaten, abuse, harass or alarm another person, according to Arkansas Act 905.
Senior MyKayla Bowser was not surprised that a student posted a photo implying blackface, she said.
“Things like this are expected when you’re a black student at a predominately white institution,” Bowser said.
Out of the approximately 25,113 students at the UofA, 18,811 are white and make up approximately 75 percent of the student body, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment Spring 2018 11th Day Enrollment Report.
Bowser does not think that university officials will take action against Edwards, and she was not impressed with Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz’s response, she said.
“As a chancellor, it is your job to put the issue of your students first,” Bowser said.
Steinmetz issued an official statement on Twitter on Feb. 24, promoting diversity on campus.
“[The UofA] supports an inclusive community today and every day that welcomes and supports a diversity of people, ideas and perspectives,” Steinmetz said in a tweet. “These are the core values we share despite insensitivity displayed by any individual.”
Degrading and harassing messages do not benefit the environment at the UofA, Rushing said.
Bowser appreciates students’ outrage over the photo, she said.
“It’s good that people are realizing that portraying [blackface] isn’t okay,” Bowser said.
J'lynn Lowery, the UA National Pan-Hellenic president, was appalled when she saw the photo, she said.
“I was completely shocked. I was hurt, and it was very distasteful,” Lowery said.
Lowery, like Bowser, was appreciative that students came forward to say that the photo was not okay, she said.
“I just wish that administration would put out a statement, too, to the public, saying, ‘It isn’t okay,’” Lowery said.
The NPHC executive board members plan to meet with Steinmetz to talk about the situation, Lowery said. NPHC leaders released an official statement Feb. 26 regarding the photo.
“As members of the NPHC at the UofA … we feel that this incident does not represent the ideals and values held by our national organizations and chapters,” according to the statement.
African-American students created NPHC during a time when black students were deprived of civil liberties, according to the statement.
“It is our responsibility as members of these organizations and as student leaders to speak out against such distasteful actions,” according to the statement. “It is in our hopes that university administrators take the appropriate actions which truly supports an inclusive community. It starts now.”
Although Edwards does not think the photo was wrong to post, Lowery does, she said.
“I just think he needs to be educated on what’s right and what’s wrong since he doesn’t already know it. It wasn’t right at all,” Lowery said. “He definitely needs to have some consequences for his actions, so maybe he will learn that this is never okay.”
Sophomore Shanel Gray agrees and thinks UA officials should talk to Edwards about what he did, she said.
“I really don’t think [Edwards] should be on campus,” Gray said.