Lee University reacts to students in blackface

Lee University reacts to students in blackface

November 22nd, 2013 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

Lee University

Lee University

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Blackface makeup donned by two Lee University students at a Theta Delta Kappa event last week drew a response from school officials and confusion about whether the school's newspaper was OK'd to write about it.

The club's dessert party was rap-song themed, and two female students, Kerri Klenkel and Laura Jones, came as the song "My N----" wearing blackface -- makeup intended to make nonblacks have dark skin -- and baggy white T-shirts.

Klenkel and Jones were not available for comment Thursday evening.

A photo of the two was posted to Twitter, where one person called the outfits "disgusting." One female student tweeted, "So we dress like that now?" in response to the photo.

Lee University spokesman Brian Conn said Wednesday that school officials were deciding what discipline to take against the two students.

A university news release attributed to Jerome Hammond, vice president for university relations, states: "Recently two of our students behaved in a way that was not only profoundly regrettable, but also deeply hurtful to many people, including fellow classmates. The only correct action is for them to apologize, which they have done."

The release goes on to say the girls' blackface outfits "arose out of ignorance regarding the historical implications of blackface, and not a willful intent to wound others."

Conn said he could not comment on whether the school tried to quash a story about the party written by Caleb Bell, editor-in-chief of the school's newspaper, the Lee Clarion, because Conn "rarely interact[s] with" the paper.

Bell said Wednesday, though, that "we were told not to publish until administration had given the green light, but there's been confusion as to who in administration can do so or when they might do it.

"A faculty member told me that he was under the impression we had been asked not to publish the story. At this moment, I still don't know who has the authority to approve the story because no one I've talked to seems to know," Bell said.

Michael Finch, faculty adviser for the Clarion, said Wednesday night that "I/we never stopped the story -- we simply slowed the story down so that we could get a comment from the administration, and so that we could think through the proper way to approach it."

All content in the student-led newspaper is subject to review before publication.

The day after school officials fielded questions from the Times Free Press about whether Bell's story was spiked, Bell received permission from Finch to publish the blackface story, and it went up on the paper's Facebook page Thursday.

Before being given the go-ahead, Bell said he understood why school administrators would be careful with the subject, because it's a "sensitive issue." But he wanted to have "an open dialogue [about race sensitivities] on campus" following the party.

"I think all the students on campus should be able to learn from this, not just the two girls involved," he said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.