By The HawkEye staff
INDIANA — For the second time in less than two years, a social-media photo and caption seen as racist by Indiana University of Pennsylvania students and administrators has prompted calls for action against hate speech. But reaction to the latest incident was muted among administrators and absent from news media.
The offensive Snapchat image appeared on Sept. 4. It depicted a blackened sandwich with a caption reading, “How do you like your grilled cheese? The same as my slaves.”
The image was sent from an account in the name of IUP marketing student Garrett J. Baerg, whose name appears on the message. Baerg is listed as community outreach chair of the Student Marketing Association in the Eberly College of Business and Information Technology.
Baerg could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
A student representative of the group dissociated the organization from Baerg’s comment and asked him to step down from his position.
A Sept. 4 tweet from Charles Wilson-Adams, an IUP indoor track-and-field athlete, reported that Baerg would make a public apology at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, in the Oak Grove. Professors, coaches and other staff would attend, Wilson-Adams wrote.
“He would like to apologize for what he said publicly,” Wilson-Adams wrote. “You don’t have to believe him, but at least hear him out!”
Wilson-Adams also faulted the university for inaction.
“I don’t see the school doing much about this,” he wrote. “This is not the first time something like this has happened and nothing has been done!”
The next day, Sept. 5, Baerg tweeted to Wilson-Adams that he was leaving town.
“I think everything that could be said has already been said and it is up to us as individuals to put that behind us,” Baerg’s message read. “I’m heading out of Indiana for a while.”
Baerg closed with, “Best of luck.”
He sent the message after expressing regret to Wilson-Adams.
“Yeah, it was a poor taste of a joke,” Baerg wrote. “It was out of my character and I really shouldn’t have posted it to begin with. I took it down shortly after that. I definitely do not condone racism and and (sic) ashamed of my actions.”
MEANWHILE, the IUP chapter of the NAACP and seven other campus groups announced a “resolution seminar” on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 6:30 p.m., at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. About 100 attended. The vast majority were students of color. A handful of white people were present.
In 2016-2017, IUP enrolled 9,278 white students, 1,358 black students, 923 international students and 510 Hispanic students, according to the university’s website.
The audience in the KCAC heard a panel of four IUP administrators – Yaw A. Asamoah, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; Kathleen R. Linder, associate vice president in the student affairs division; Theodore G. Turner, director of the IUP Multicultural Student Leadership and Engagement Department, and Pablo B. Mendoza, assistant to the president for social equity.
Mendoza addressed Baerg’s absence.
“Unfortunately, Garrett could not be with us tonight,” he said.
Mendoza read an apology that he attributed to Baerg. It differed from Baerg’s own apology posted on Twitter.
“This is the first time in near 30 years that a student has apologized,” Mendoza said.
During a discussion of hate speech, Asamoah advocated what he called “the IUP way.”
“As an academic university, we don’t want to ban speech but to foster engagement in an academic discussion — to foster a culture where we can disagree but be respectful.”
An audience member asked why IUP doesn’t require diversity training of all students.
“If it was required, it would be less effective,” Asamoah replied.
A student organizer of the event referred to the university’s “civility statement” to “discourage intolerance, hatred, and injustice.”
“The civility statement is not a policy but an aspiration,” she said.
Near the meeting’s end, Turner posed a question to students: “What do you, the students, do after this?”
At least one student expressed anger and frustration at panelists’ do-it-yourself prescriptions.
ON FRIDAY EVENING, Sept. 8, Racial Justice Coalition for Change, a group formed shortly after a racist, December 2015 Snapchat photo roiled the campus, sparked news-media coverage and prompted President Michael A. Driscoll to respond personally, addressed an open letter to students.
A Sept. 9 email from IUP sociology professor Melanie D. Hildebrant, a co-founder of RJCC, reported that student leaders at the Wednesday evening KCAC meeting expressed anger about the latest offensive Snapchat and “frustration with what they felt was a lack of response to the incident from faculty and administration.”
In response, the open letter to students read:
“Racism, unfortunately, pervades our culture and social institutions, as we have seen most recently with the racist violence in Charlottesville and the national conversation about DACA. As your faculty, we pledge to acknowledge and confront instances of racism and hate that affect members of our campus community.”
By Sunday evening, more than 130 of IUP’s roughly 650 faculty members had added their names to the letter. A handful of students added signatures. Linder also signed.
ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON, emails seeking official reaction to the preceding week’s events were sent to university administrators, including President Driscoll and university spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling. The messages were not returned by Sunday night.
Cody S. Minich, a sophomore journalism major from Ford City, and Septima D. Simpkins, a senior communications media and journalism major from Tobyhanna, contributed reporting for this story.