Library Director at Doane University Suspended After Displaying Blackface Photos

Doane University library director at its main campus in Nebraska decided to display photos showing students in blackface. The president is apologizing, meanwhile, a faculty group actually supports the decision to show the photos.

“It has been brought to my attention that there was a display outside of our library in the communications building on the Crete campus that included two photos of a group of Doane students from the 1920s,” University president Dr. Jacque Carter wrote in a letter sent to students last week.

“In these photos, a handful of students from the 1920s are seen wearing blackface.”

blackface
Photo from Doane Student Media Twitter page

A student was upset by the images that were included “in a party-themed, a decade-by-decade tour,” of dozens of photos. Last month the student addressed Melissa Gomis, director of the Perkins Library, according to Lincoln Journal Star. Gomis created the exhibit using materials in the university’s archive and displayed it in a public space.

Racist students attending a campus-sponsored Halloween party in 1926 wore blackface. Gomis apparently thought it was suitable to display racist history.

“Blackface is hurtful and racist and has no place at our institution,” Carter wrote in the email. “Immediate action has been taken and an investigation has begun. The photos have been removed and the display outside the library has been taken down.”

Carter offered an apology: “I want to apologize for the display of these photos and for the hurt that they have caused. Such an insensitive action is unacceptable and will not be tolerated now or in the future.”

In regard to the diversity of the student body at Doane University, the “Facts and Figures” page includes information on students attending in the fall of 2017. It’s not broken down by race or ethnicity, rather a category for the percentage of “Multicultural Students” — 17% at the Crete campus, 19% in Lincoln, 10% in Grand Island and 11% in Omaha.

In Crete, where the university’s main campus is located, the population of the city is 83.9% white, 0.5% Black, 37.6% Latino, 5.7% Asian, and 0.3% American Indian.

Gomis has been placed on administrative leave. However, a Doane faculty group demanded on Thursday that the university reinstate the library director.

“The Doane American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter, in a statement released Friday, argued that the school censored the library director when it removed the exhibit,” according to The Doane Line, the student-produced news website.

The faculty group claims Carter’s email is creating an environment of censorship.

“Such an institutional environment, in which the content of library exhibits can be judged by the University president as sufficiently controversial or offensive that they must be removed partially or in their entirety at the president’s discretion, constitutes an infringement of the academic freedom that is essential to the work of Director Gomis, all other faculty, and, by extension, the students of the University,” the faculty group said, in a statement.

The student news website reports that there’s also a letter penned by faculty members who do not think taking down the display is a form of censorship.

“It does not appear that consideration was made to meet the responsibilities placed on faculty members by the person responsible for placing the inflammatory pictures into that space,” the letter says. “Perhaps more troubling is the perceived disregard for the effect on our students of faculty body who is willing to cry ‘academic freedom’ in this situation.”

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