Campus community roiled by student Snapchats referencing blackface

A pair of Snapchats posted to a student’s story that referenced blackface have created outcry from students at Geneseo. In an email from College President Denise Battles to the student body, the college called the Snaps “deeply disturbing, reprehensible, and wholly inconsistent with the values of this College.” 

The Snaps in question were posted to the public Snap story of a first-year student, who The Lamron will refer to as “Maddie” on Monday April 1. The first Snap depicts a girl posing in front of the sunset wearing a charcoal face mask and is captioned “Blackface and sunsets with my bae.” The second, posted in succession, shows two girls wearing charcoal face masks and is captioned “Jk they’re face masks.” 

Sociology major junior Jorge Terrero sent an email to multiple stakeholders throughout the college on Monday April 1, including Battles, Chief Diversity Officer robbie routenberg and The Lamron, among others. In the email, Terrero strongly condemns the Snaps and calls on the college to respond. 

“I am confident that I speak for the black and Afro-Latino student population when I say that this is unacceptable,” Terrero said in the email. “Throughout the course of my time at Geneseo, I have seen many instances of racism and bigotry … students receive frequent emails each time a member of the faculty is promoted or whenever the college is looking for a new Vice President, but when it comes to matters of race and bigoted behavior, we have not received much correspondence.” 

Terrero underscored why he felt that a strong response from the college was necessary in this instance especially. 

“We are demanding that something be done about this and that these students face appropriate disciplinary action for their outrageous behavior. It is my hope, that as a campus that promotes diversity, something be done about this,” Terrero said in the email. “The college’s inaction in this situation would send a message to all students of color that they are not valued members of the community.” 

Terrero declined to speak in person with The Lamron, citing a busy schedule. 

In an email sent the next morning on Tuesday April 2, the college responded by announcing that they will be conducting an investigation. 

“Overnight, the College received reports of two social media image postings showing two Geneseo students posing in what appears to be blackface,” Battles wrote. “Please know that the matter has the full attention of the College’s leadership.’ 

The college also referenced the broader context of blackface’s racist character throughout American history. 

“We recognize that there is a long history of blackface in this country, a practice that has denigrated and minimized the Black experience,” Battles wrote. “We categorically reject and condemn the racism inherent in portrayals of blackface.” 

Other students have also responded to criticize the Snapchats in question. Black Student Union freshman representative freshman Samantha Aya learned about the Snapchat from a fellow member of BSU and immediately felt confounded. 

“My first reaction was definitely confusion because it was one of those things where I saw it and I knew it was a face mask, but then I saw the caption and that’s what was like ‘Oh. That’s not okay,’” Aya said. “As a freshman, one thing [the college] wanted to let me know … was that ‘We respect you, we love diversity and any problems will get solved,’ but just seeing something like that [created] a feeling of uncomfortableness … that stuff like that can still happen in 2019 on a campus like this where it’s predominantly white.” 

BSU freshman representative freshman Nakkia Smalls learned about the Snaps from a friend who was friends with Maddie on Snapchat. Smalls said that she and others reposted the Snaps to inform others of the depiction of blackface. Eventually, Smalls was part of a group of students who spoke with Maddie about the Snaps and how they made her feel. 

Smalls believes the pictures represent a dehumanization of black students like herself. 

“My reaction was like ‘I guess my face is a joke.’ Like I can just take on and off my face and I can call it a mask as though it’s just not a part of me,” Smalls said. “We are in 2019 and its still the same things, but in different proportions. If we look at our presidency [with the Trump administration], it’s no wonder why people are still ignorant and belligerent about things … Are we ever gonna get past this? Are we ever gonna be humans just like [white people] are humans?” 

Aya felt that, regardless of what the college does as punishment for the student’s Snaps, Maddie should understand the impact.

“I definitely think what should happen is she should know what she did isn’t okay, I’m pretty sure people have told her that like, it’s not funny, it’s not okay,” Aya said. “You don’t understand the history behind blackface. I get where people are coming from when they’re saying she should get expelled, she should get suspended [but] I don’t know if I personally feel that way.”

Smalls personally suggested that the student should be excused for a semester. Both Smalls and Aya highlighted that they felt the student should reflect on her actions.