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Wisconsin-Whitewater roiled by racist video, alleged "blackface" photo

As it turned out, only one of these posts was as offensive as first thought.

As it turned out, only one of these posts was as offensive as first thought.

Emotions are running high at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater around issues of race. The reasons for this tension can be traced to two social media postings that surfaced online last week.

One depicts two white girls throwing around a racial slur. The other might be a case of sensitivity run amok: Two undergrads were accused of posing in "blackface," and a school leader immediately issued a condemnation of their offensive behavior.

But within hours, a far more innocent explanation had emerged. The students were embarking on a skincare regime, they said, and not painting their faces to imitate black people.

The video incident is not so easily explained. In the short clip, two white students are depicted quoting from the song "We Made It Freestyle," by Drake and Soulja Boy. Specifically, they're referencing a line that goes, "Nigga, we made it."

The girls seem to relish their use of the n-word: One emphasizes it, while the other caps off her quoting of the line by saying, "Nigga, nigga, nigga."

MAKE AN EXAMPLE OF THESE WHITE STUDENTS! Hang them out to DRY! THEY ARE NOT INNOCENT LIKE WE SAID ITS 2016 ain't NOBODY UNAWARE OF RACISM AND IF YOU ARE YO ASS A RACIST.JUST A SONG OR RACIST SLURS?

Posted by Connell Patterson III on Thursday, February 18, 2016

One of the girls in the video — their identity has not been made public — was "considerably remorseful," according to UW-Whitewater Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Tom Rios. But, as Rios told the local Fox TV affiliate, it's not clear what action the school can take in response. Being racist is not a crime.

"They may be distasteful, they may be things we don't want happening in our community, but we also have to attend to the first amendment rights of people," Rios said. 

Kyree Brooks, a leader with the school's Black Student Union, said the less apologetic of the two students "doesn't feel like it's wrong at all. It's not cool for it to come out of your mouth, period," he said.

But it was the other episode that quickly caught the eye of UW-Whitewater Chancellor Beverly Kopper. In a message emailed to all of the school's more than 10,000 students last week, Kopper said she had been made aware of a "disturbing racist post" on social media. The post was "hurtful and destructive," Kopper wrote, and spoke to a larger issue of racist attitudes at the school, which has a small population of black students.

The post in question:


Kopper later backed off her statement, at least as it relates to the photo. The students in that photo had just had a facial treatment, and were merely posting their mid-process look online, according to Channel3000 news. Kopper said those students — whom Fox reports have met with black student leaders, apologizing for any perceived racial tone to their image — would not face discipline for the apparent misunderstanding. 

Republican Sen. Steve Nass, who represents the Whitewater area, said Kopper's statement was a "racial overreaction," and risked spurring tension over an innocuous image. 

"The official statement misled students, parents and the public," Nass said, "by confirming that a racist event had occurred, even though it really hadn't."

Kopper, for her part, seemed especially sensitive to such incidents, explaining that she'd held a "pizza with the chancellor" meeting with students earlier last week. There, she heard multiple stories of "racial slurs and microagressions" occurring on campus. 

"Some of our multicultural and nontraditional students feel the environment on campus is not welcoming to all," Kopper said. "Over and over, the students in attendance expressed their need to be heard and for campus to do more than just talk."