Zach McKinley / The Daily Gamecock

Students, organizations offer perspectives on USC yearbook offensive images

President Pastides sent an email to students about the university's yearbook archives containing offensive photos, including racist images, in February. This email came in the wake of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's yearbook photo revealing him either in blackface or a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Jeff Stensland, USC's director of public relations, said the review of the university's yearbook archives was prompted by this discovery.

The university archivist's findings have led to an increased discussion of racial issues on USC's campus.

“This type of history is always devastating to learn about. It's completely unsurprising as well,” said Caroline Fairey, editor-in-chief of Garnet and Black Magazine. “We strongly condemn bigotry, hatred, blackface in any appearance. This is not okay.” 

Garnet and Black, the organization that once created the university's yearbooks, currently produces the Garnet and Black magazine. 

Fairey, a third-year English and global studies student, said the magazine's current mission is to value and tell the stories of marginalized men and women of Columbia. About a year ago, this mission inspired a commentary calling on the university to examine the names of buildings on campus

One notable instance of racism found in the yearbook archives was from 1963. That year, three black students enrolled at USC, officially desegregating the university. Henrie Monteith Treadwell was the first of these students to graduate, and while her legacy of integration continues to live on, it does not in the university’s yearbooks from her time at USC.

Treadwell attended USC from 1963 to 1965, but she does not appear once in the yearbooks printed during that time. Robert G. Anderson and James L. Solomon Jr., her two black classmates, were also omitted from the pages of these yearbooks. 

These students weren't just missing from group and social photos. None appear once in the yearbooks even though there are sections for individual student photos.

Treadwell also spoke of her experiences of isolation as one of the few black students at USC in the '60s. 

“I did not go to the university at that time to make friends,” Treadwell said during a phone call. “I went to desegregate the institution."

Racism at the university can be traced throughout the Garnet and Black yearbooks.

In the late '70s and early '80s editions, blackface and offensive caricatures were primarily found on pages featuring Greek life parties or functions. Some of the fraternities include Sigma Nu, Kappa Alpha Order and Phi Kappa Psi. Sororities on these pages include Zeta Tau Alpha, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Alpha Delta Pi. 

Sigma Nu and Kappa Alpha Order did not respond to requests for comment after a reporter appeared at a Interfraternity Council meeting inquiring about traditions and history and emailed as a follow-up. The Interfraternity Council declined to comment until after the publication of this article. Phi Kappa Psi no longer has any chapters in South Carolina.

Rachyl Jones, a second-year English student and Kappa Kappa Gamma president, said her sorority has changed since these incidents, some of which included the use of blackface skits as entertainment.

“It is not something we are proud of, but it is something that through conversation and through growing, we can mend the relationships we broke in the past,” Jones said. “We never talk about what someone looks like or the color of their skin or anything like that for rushing.” 

Other offensive photos in the yearbooks during the '70s and '80s include Alpha Delta Pi members performing skits as Aunt Jemima during rush. The sorority's current president, Perry Anne Robinson, a third-year management student, denounced these photos.

“We cannot be ignorant and ignore the past," Robinson said. "We can address it and learn from it and grow from it. Honestly, we just have to be able to learn from the past, learn from our mistakes and know that we’re in a new time period."

Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first sorority founded by African-American female college students, was an established sorority on campus at the time these offensive photos were published.  

Olivia Jabber, current president of Alpha Kappa Alpha and fourth-year biology student, said President Pastides’ letter was expected, and she thinks backlash would have surfaced had he not addressed the presence of racist photos in university records.  

“Personally, I feel as if it’s the history of this country, not just the history of this university, and so I can’t place all the blame on this one university," Jabber said. "There's more that can be done other than just a verbal denouncement of the situation."

Jabber also said there is little collaboration between Greek organizations and the councils they form for events such as Greek Week, and that relationships are nearly nonexistent and all parties involved need to do a better job being more inclusive. Jabber also said that multicultural councils are often only invited to events as "an afterthought."

As reported previously, one event featured in the 1982 yearbook was the Old South Ball put on by the fraternity Kappa Alpha Order. The event showed members in Confederate uniforms and blackface. 

This ball continued through 2018 at USC with modifications. Following complaints from sororities and fraternities at the University of Alabama in 2009, the fraternity council banned the use of Confederate uniforms at the ball at all of its chapters nationwide. It did not ban the party itself. 

In 2018, USC's Kappa Alpha Order chapter, held its Old South Ball at the Spanish Galleon Beach Club. For this event, fraternity members dressed in white collared shirts, black blazers and jeans, while their dates wore old-fashioned dresses.

Campus discussions about race relations extend beyond Greek Life. Students and organizations provided their opinions on relations, biases and how to move forward.  

Anna Edwards, the associate vice president for student life, said her goal is to have all organizations provide ways for students to learn from others and challenge themselves while finding community at such a large campus. 

Third-year exercise science student Jessica Terrell is the president of the Association of African-American Students, vice president of Black Medical Students Association and a Multicultural Assistance peer program mentor. Terrell says being a part of these organizations provides her an outlet outside of the classroom, where she is usually one of the only black students present.

The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs hosts open panel discussions, lectures, performances and film festivals to encourage and prompt discussion about various aspects of diversity. 

However, both Jabber and Terrell said these events lack the reach they need because most of the students who participate are either minorities themselves or are already culturally aware. Both suggested events like these should be mandatory for more students or professors could offer incentives for students to attend.

First-year biochemistry student Reagan Davis explained how she feels there are racial biases from both sides, which is not necessarily intentional but rather subconscious. 

"Racism isn't always a malicious, physical action," Davis said.

In particular, Davis described one incident of racial bias she has experienced. She visited a professor seeking help in class. He explained to her how first-generation college students can have trouble adjusting and recommended that she drop the class. 

Together, Davis' parents hold nine different college degrees. After she explained this to the professor and asked why he assumed she was a first-generation college student, he did not have a response. Davis said she believes this assumption was made due to racial biases that African-American students come from weaker education systems and poverty. 

Heather Brown, a first-year biology student, cited instances of racism her friends have experienced, such as racial slurs being written on their whiteboards in residence halls and the N-word being yelled at her. 

Heather explained the need for mutual respect of opinions and experiences. In order to know the black experience, non-minority students need to have open discussions. 

"When you're interacting with a minority and you want to learn, just ask," Heather said. "I prefer you ask and take it from the horse's mouth rather than just have your own presumptions."

First-year business accounting student Zacheus Magwood gave his reaction to President Pastides' letter regarding the yearbooks. 

"It was comforting to see how fast they responded, but it was more like a Band-Aid for a broken arm," Magwood said. 

Although he believes race relations at USC have improved in the past few years, Magwood still experiences racism at the university. He described an incident where the N-word was written on his whiteboard outside his room in his residence hall. 

Fourth-year chemistry student Tamera Sullivan described the micro-aggressions that exist on campus, including some where students will mumble slurs at others in passing. She believes some ways to combat this and move forward is through leadership, acknowledgment of these issues and more collaboration among student organizations. 

"I feel like at least everyone on campus is involved in at least one organization and that collaboration among student organizations would be very beneficial," Sullivan said.

She said she hopes that the university's next president will be as proactive as Pastides in promoting diversity and inclusion in finding direct ways to communicate with the student body. 

“People are still hurt. They are hurt when they feel excluded. They are hurt when they are feeling some kind of racial bias," Treadwell said, "but you gotta walk through it and walk toward it and address it, and nobody can do that but each one of us.” 


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