Fairfield University students and alumni took to social media Sunday to protest a race-themed party that reportedly occurred near the Jesuit and Catholic university just one night before.
Officials from the university said this sort of behavior is contrary to the culture of inclusion and diversity that staff and faculty try to reinforce in its curriculum. However some students say they are not surprised by the event.
“Even though the school is becoming more diverse, the students aren’t being integrated well,” Juanita Rainey, a 20-year-old junior from Bridgeport, said. “So it’s disappointing because I’ve had all these friends, who I thought were okay with me, happily attend this party to make fun of black people.”
A number of Fairfield students were pictured wearing baggy clothing and holding bottles of 40oz Coors Light, according to students. The students who hosted the party have not yet been identified.
Jennifer Anderson, Fairfield University’s vice president of marketing and communications said the university administration is actively investigating the matter and intends to come to an informed and measured resolution.
“We obviously need to compile all the details” Anderson said Monday. “The student services groups are trying to understand all the details that would have warranted such a reaction on social media and at this point we’re talking to students and administration.”
Anderson said the party reportedly occurred in off campus housing, in a privately owned beach house that is not affiliated with the university. She added that the university’s response will depend on what actually took place at the party.
“We are just learning [of the party] this morning,” she said. “Obviously everyone is just getting back this morning but there are a number of meetings taking place to understand the incident clearly.”
In and emailed statement, Anderson added: “Fairfield University is explicitly committed, and missioned as a Jesuit and Catholic University, to a culture that embraces and celebrates diversity, and we actively encourage conversations and support programs that deepen our students cultural sensitivity, while also impressing upon them that they are expected to be exemplary in their dealings with one another, and with everyone in the community.
According to Anderson, the university has recently taken steps to spark a dialogue around race and inclusion, including implementing a “Black Lives Matter” course this semester and hosting the Connecticut Mirror’s one-day race conference in October.
“We also demand that our students, faculty, and staff maintain the highest level of cultural sensitivity. We will be investigating this matter immediately, and will take the appropriate action as soon as the facts have been determined,” she said.
A number of Fairfield alumni have also taken to their computers to condemn the actions of current students and partygoers.
“As a graduate of Fairfield University, I want to apologize for the actions of said students,” Chris Elgee, class of ’97, said in a Facebook post. “I am ashamed that such students can represent an otherwise fine school. Please do not think that the actions or attitudes of a few represent the many. This just shows how far we as a society have to go before we achieve full equality.”
For the droves of students who displayed their anger with the situation on social media, the administrations response will be a pivotal point for race relations on campus.
“The university hasn’t really done anything in the past when there were other small race issues,“ Rainey said. “The school doesn’t really show us support.”
Both Rainey and Anderson said an event of this kind hasn’t happened in their time at the school, but Aryam Kifle, a junior from Newton, Massachusetts said she is not surprised that it’s happening now.
“Generally I just don’t think there is a real regard from the student body for the climate of the country,” Kifle said about her classmates. “I’m definitely not surprised this is happening now because of the way the student body here has reacted to current events. They probably thought that it would be a funny joke.”
Kifle said the administration has set a precedent for ineffectively responding to racial matters on campus, when peaceful die-in protesters associated with the Black Lives Matter movement were harassed on social media in fall 2014.
According to the Office of Public and Community Relations, students, faculty and staff participated in a number of workshops in the months following the die-in protests. The course focusing on Black Lives Matter was launched as a result.
Right now, though, Kifle said she just wants the students involved to be held accountable.
“If the administration were to respond I would be happy,” she said. “I want them to respond in a way that holds the students who held the party responsible in any way.”
For some students however, accountability isn’t the only concern. Rainey, who said a number of student leaders attended the party, said she is shocked a party like this would actually occur.
“I knew people felt like this,” Rainey said. “Some people are crazy enough that they feel like a party like this is okay. But I just wasn’t expecting so many people to be a part of it.”
Editor’s note: (Updated 12:53 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23) University officials said Tuesday that based on their investigation thus far, they don’t believe that any of the students who attended a party this past weekend were “wearing brown makeup or were in blackface.”
Editor’s note: (Updated 4:33 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24) In the original story that ran it included a photo we were told was from the party, but university officials confirmed on Feb. 24 after interviews with students that the photo of three female students “was not from the party” that happened Saturday.