A racially offensive image was removed from the door of the dean’s office at the McCombs School of Business on Friday. The decoration was part of a holiday decorating contest for departments in the school and was removed immediately after administration was notified, according to a statement issued by Jay Hartzell, dean of the business school.
The decoration, placed on the door of Hartzell’s office, depicted a stereotypical and offensive image of an African-American male with brass knuckles and gold teeth. Photos of the decoration were posted on Twitter on Friday morning and received intense student reactions, leading to its removal less than one hour after it was initially put up. On Friday night, Hartzell released a statement condemning the incident as a “hurtful act.”
Hartzell said that McCombs administration was aware of the contest, but had no part in providing formal oversight or a sign-off. He said he would be setting aside hours next week to meet with students and discuss the situation further.
“McCombs is a school and community where every student, faculty and staff member should feel welcome and know they belong,” Hartzell said in the email. “This morning’s incident demonstrates that we are not there yet — but deepens my resolve to get there.”
Hartzell said the incident solidifies the need for a Chief Diversity Officer in the business school. While it has been considered for some time now, he said the school will now accelerate its search. He also said they will bring in an expert on culture and climate to address ways the school can improve.
Accounting junior Tyler Wilridge was shocked to see the decoration up Friday morning and posted an image of it on Twitter. Although Dean Hartzell’s public apology promises to take measures to ensure an incident like this will not happen again, Wilridge said he is worried the promises will not stick.
“I’m just waiting to see what happens once everybody forgets about this,” Wilridge said. “It’s easy to say that when everybody’s mad about it and you’re just trying to like, calm everybody down, but what’s going to happen in six months?”
Kastina Fishback, president of the Black Business Student Association and finance senior, said in many of her courses she is the only African-American student, and the low representation in the business school has always concerned her.
“The incident involving the racially insensitive door decoration reminded me that McCombs not only lacks diversity, but within the faculty and staff population as well,” Fishback said in an email. “Although we understand that the college acted swiftly in removing the decorations, it nonetheless reminded us that McCombs must do a better job at creating an environment where all students feel appreciated and welcomed.”
Around 500 of McCombs’ 12,937 current students are African-American, making up 4 percent of business school’s population. Wilridge said the lack of black representation at McCombs is part of the reason an image like this was ever posted in the first place.
“There’s such a lack of representation of black students, especially black men, at McCombs,” Wilridge said. “I just feel like this is only the first step. An apology is fine, whatever, we accept it, but it has to be more than that. We have to get more representation out there so these things don’t happen.”