SUNY Geneseo administrators are investigating photos circulated via the social media platform SnapChat that show two young white females, identified by the college as students, wearing charcoal facial cleansing masks with accompanying captions referencing blackface, according to staff-wide emails obtained by The County News.
The County News reviewed both photos. The first shows two young women viewing a sunset over the Genesee Valley, presumably on the campus of SUNY Geneseo, while wearing black charcoal masks. The photo is accompanied by the caption “sunsets and blackface with my bae.” Bae is an acronym for “before anyone else” and is often used as a term of endearment or as a euphemism for “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”
The second photo again shows the two young women wearing the black charcoal masks and is accompanied by the caption “JK, they’re face masks.” JK is an acronym for “just kidding.”
The photos were posted Monday evening and circulated quickly among college students, according to a SUNY Geneseo senior named Nicole who asked to be identified only by her first name. Posts to SnapChat typically expire and are inaccessible after a short amount of time, but can be saved by taking a screenshot.
The college first addressed the photos Tuesday morning in an email to college staff. In the email, President Denise Battles called the students’ behavior “deeply disturbing, reprehensible, and wholly inconsistent with the values of this college.”
“Please know that the matter has the full attention of the College’s leadership. Members of the College administration were immediately notified, and the situation is currently under investigation,” Battles wrote. “We recognize that there is a long history of blackface in this country, a practice that has denigrated and minimized the Black experience. It is the historical lens through which this incident is being experienced by many members of the college community. We categorically reject and condemn the racism inherent in portrayals of blackface.”
Parents of students were notified of the incident in an email Wednesday afternoon. In that second email, Battles said, in light of the incident, the college would be offering “educational programming and opportunities for support and dialogue.”
Two such dialogue opportunities are being hosted by SUNY Geneseo’s President’s Commission on Diversity and Community. The two opportunities are scheduled for April 4 from 2 to 4 p.m. in room 208 of Sturges Hall and April 5 from 1 to 3 p.m., likewise in room 208.
“The strength of our community is derived from both our diversity and unity,” said Battles in her email to parents. “However, this incident indicates that we must continue our work to ensure that these treasured qualities remain at the heart of the Geneseo experience. I am committed to preserving those qualities and in fostering a community that is welcoming and inclusive.”
Nicole, the SUNY Geneseo senior, said she and her fellow students were angered by the posts. She thinks the two students shown in the photos should make a public apology and undergo a racial sensitivity course.
Gail Glover, SUNY Geneseo’s chief communications and marketing officer, said in a statement Friday “the college continues to conduct a review of the incident so it’s a little early to speculate on an outcome at this stage.”