Justice

These Sorority Tee Shirts Have an Awful Racist Message

May 13th 2016

By:
Lucy Tiven

A sorority at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama is facing major criticism for printing racist images on spring formal T-shirts, Jezebel reported.

The T-shirts, which were printed but not designed by the Kappa chapter of the sorority Alpha Delta Pi, show a map of the state that includes illustrations of people picking cotton and a caricature of a black man eating watermelon.

"King Cotton" shaped much of Alabama's violent and disturbing history of slavery. "Cotton dominated Alabama's economy," Maryland's Loyola University explained on their educational page, "Unlocking the Closet of Secrets: Slavery in the City of Mobile, Alabama​." In the years leading up the Civil War, the state's thriving economy was fueled by slave labor — these individuals picked 440.5 million pounds of cotton between 1800 and 1859 alone — second only to Mississippi, the Mississippi Historical society reported.

The backlash.

Many Twitter users slammed the T-shirt's racist imagery on Friday.

An alumna of the college also took note of the shirt's inflammatory message, and voiced her disapproval.

The school responded.

On Friday, University of Samford apologized and clarified that the school had already rejected the sorority's design proposal, but the group printed them anyway.

“This is completely inconsistent with the university’s mission and values,” Samford University executive director of communications Philip Poole, said in a statement tweeted by Samford student life.

Samford University president Andrew Westmoreland also issued a letter apologizing to the student body, which was reprinted by local TV station WBRC. Westmoreland wrote:

"My understanding is that the design of the shirt was rejected by members of our university staff during an approval process, but that the shirt was printed without our knowledge. We will, of course, conduct a thorough review of that process.

"There is no doubt that this graphic illustration on a sorority T-shirt does not capture the thoughts of our entire campus, but there is also no doubt that each of us associated with Samford bears responsibility whenever disrespect appears. It is a poignant, gripping reminder that, regardless of progress made, additional progress awaits us.

"Let me add this personal word to our employees and students of color, in the hope that you can know of my personal embarrassment. I was repulsed by the image. I lack the words to express my own sense of frustration. I am certain that you will receive apologies from those who were responsible for creating the shirt, but I want you to know now of my personal apology for the fact that it happened. We share intense sorrow, even on a morning in which we are called to celebrate the graduation of so many of our students. I will admit that it is difficult for me to smile amidst the sadness that I feel right now."

This is not the first time a member of the Greek system has faced criticism for displays of overt racism.

As ATTN: previously reported, in October 2015, UCLA's Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity faced major controversy after the frat threw a "Kanye Western" party, where students appeared in blackface.

In March of 2015, two members of a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma were expelled for singing racial slurs in a video shared online.

Update 5/16:

ATTN: reached out to the Alpha Delta Pi Executive Office, and received the following statements from the Samford University chapter president and Alpha Delta Pi international president.

"We extend our sincere apologizes for our mistake. In selecting the t-shirt, we failed to focus on the specific images in the design. We are horrified by our oversight. Had we recognized what the design details depicted, we would never have purchased the shirts. Upon discovering our serious error, we immediately informed our members not to wear the shirts and are in the process of collecting them all so they can be destroyed. We are committed to ensuring this never happens again." - Lauren Hammond, Chapter President at Samford University

"An initial investigation by Alpha Delta Pi has learned that the chapter found the shirt design online; they did not create or take part in designing the map in any way. The shirt vendor has also come forward to acknowledge that while the university did send the rejection notice to them, the vendor failed to notify the chapter of the rejection due to a clerical error. The chapter was not made aware of the problem with the design, and believed the design to be approved; the vendor moved ahead with printing the shirts. Clearly the responsibility for this grave situation lies first and foremost with the chapter; they have readily taken responsibility for their role, and have also met with NPHC members on campus to share their sincere remorse. Alpha Delta Pi will continue to investigate and provide updates as they become available, and will take appropriate actions at the conclusion of our investigation." - Alpha Delta Pi's International organization

Update 5/16/2016 2:04 p.m. Pacific Time: This story was updated to include statements from Alpha Delta Pi's Samford University Chapter president and the Alepha Delta Pi international president. The story has also been updated to reflect that the chapter did not create the design, but did print the design on the T-shirts.

[h/t Jezebel]