On the Night of Oct. 31, the Daemen Life Instagram account posted a picture depicting a student dressed as what appeared to be an African tour guide holding several stuffed animals.
A sign labeled “Ebola” behind her was held up by another student (not identifiable in the photo).
The costume was a part of a class project, where students were asked to dress up as a disease.
Many students saw the photo as deeply concerning and inappropriate on several different levels. Student government association (SGA) president Ricardo Marquez said the photo was “insensitive and demonstrated a lack of understanding of other cultures.”.
Black Student Union (BSU) president Carlos McKnight called SGA president Ricardo Marquez the night of the post and informed him that many students were offended.
Marquez, then requested for the post to be taken down via an email to administration at roughly 9:50pm. According to Marquez, the post was taken down by administration within ten minutes of his request.
On Nov. 1, the day after the controversial photo was posted, the Daemen Life Instagram account issued a statement apologizing for the photo that “fell far from the mission statement of both the student affairs division and the @DaemenLife social media team.”
The statement also thanked students who informed them that the picture was inappropriate, and said “we will be addressing the originator and participants of the photo and working with them to educate and make restitution to the community.”
On Thursday Nov. 7, a meeting took place between a couple of Daemen administrators, student leaders, and the two students that were involved in the photo.
Marquez was present at this meeting. He states, “no conclusions were reached at that point.”
He added, “they are working on restructuring the policy and the protocols of future publications in social media.”
A greater number of Daemen students started to find out about the controversy over the weekend of Nov. 8-11. Students began to spread a screenshot of the Instagram photo coupled with a picture outing the unidentifiable student from the photo (who was holding the “Ebola” Sign).
On Monday Nov. 11, dean of diversity and inclusion Dr. Gibson, issued an email addressing the sharing of information related to the controversial Instagram post and educating students about the restorative justice model, which she states “build(s) systems that address issues in a way that strengthens relationships and communities.”
Furthermore, Dr. Gibson stated that following a “restorative justice conversation with four students…various aspects of the conversation has been shared with others outside the process which goes against key tenets of Restorative Justice and safe space for discussing, sharing, and discourse.”
Dr. Gibson closed the email by saying, “I ask people to not share messages without context and help us work together to truly make this campus inclusive.”
The morning following Dr. Gibson’s email the student government association posted a statement on Instagram supporting the restorative justice model and stating “SGA does not condone bullying or the revealing of information that lacks content, context or truth.”
Later that day (Tuesday Nov. 12), during a weekly student government association meeting vice president of SGA Telena Smith reiterated Dr. Gibson’s email, telling students to avoid disseminating information about the controversial image or the students involved in it, “without knowing all the facts.”
Wednesday Nov. 13, SGA hosted an open forum from 5pm to a little after 6pm, in the Alumni room in Wick.
Director of student activities Heather Maclin said that, “this forum was planned before anything happened on our campus this semester, more specifically anything that happened with the photo.”
She added, “we wanted to be respectful to everyone in the room that came with other concerns.”
According to Maclin, the forum concerned many different issues including “dining, cross contamination with food, transportation, internships, and the photo that was posted onto Daemen life (Instagram).”
SGA vice president Telena smith confirmed that discussions included, “meal plans, wick food, and having business on campus other than work study.”
The majority of the forum consisted of discussing these issues. Toward the end of the forum students started to bring up issues related to the controversial photo posted on Instagram and the events since.
Smith also said that “everyone was allowed to speak at the forum” and reiterated that it was a “general forum” designed to entertain a lot of different issues on campus.
Another member of SGA Alysha Jackson said that, a student from west Africa had expressed” how the picture hurt her.”
Jackson added that the student expressed how Ebola affected some of “her family and friends” who died from the disease.
Jackson said that ‘the student justified his actions by saying that it was meant to be a joke, and that students feelings were subjective and he didn’t feel like he did anything wrong.’
At one point, the student who had held the Ebola sign in the (controversial) photo raised his hand and asked to speak about the issue. He sat up from his seat and walked to the podium.
The student did not apologize for his participation in the costume and the photo and instead began to defend himself.
According to Black Student Union president Carlos McKnight, the student spoke for a minute or two” before Daemen College vice president of student affairs Dr. Greg Nayor took the stage and “asked the student to leave.”
McKnight said regarding the students’ remarks, “it was a slap in the face to the student body and to students who have had people affected by the Ebola virus.”
McKnight exclaimed, ‘students were crying, students were frustrated.”
Another Daemen student Shania LiVecchi said, “I was shocked he justified his action.”
She added, “It led to a lot of chaos and emotion.”
LiVecchi says that this is “more than the photo.”
LiVecchi added, ‘the recent energy on campus has a lot to do with the feelings of students being left out and unrepresented by administration.’
Regarding Dr. Nayor’s decision to ask the student to leave, LiVecchi said, “I’m glad he did that, it (the students remarks) was getting so offensive.”
Later that night, Dr. Nayor wrote an email to the student body regarding the events of the forum saying, “for the first 45 minutes, a passionate, respectful, and energized student body address(ed) issues large and small that were important to them. I could not be more proud of our student leaders and SGA for being positive change agents.”
Nayor continued, “unfortunately, that changed when a student, who was involved in the inappropriate photo that was posted on @DaemenLife on Halloween, asked to speak to the audience. Instead of offering a sincere apology…the student callously, and without regard for that hurt, justified their actions.”
Nayor stated, “I am concerned about the safety and well-being of this campus community and therefore, in the interest of campus safety, and in consultation with guidelines outlined in the Student Handbook, I have placed this student on an interim suspension, effective immediately, until we can determine the most appropriate way to resolve this situation through the Student Code of Conduct.”
Nayor added, “we (administration) will be working with the Student Government Association to address on this matter and the future, as well as providing an update to community members when feasible.”
The following day (Nov. 14) through a campus wide email to students SGA stated, “SGA did not participate in the decision-making to take administrative action towards the student who created a hostile environment that hurt students and faculty in the room.”
SGA also encouraged students “to come out to the forums because this is one of the ways we can help provide change for our mission of diversity and inclusivity on campus.”
On Friday Nov. 15, the president’s office sent an email to students addressed from Daemen College president Gary Olson.
The letter from the president read, “I have directed Dr. Nayor to develop a plan, to be approved by the College, that will ensure that multiple individuals will review submitted photos before they are uploaded.”
He also urged that, “all—faculty, staff, and students—are properly educated on cultural competencies and micro-aggressions.”
The president added, “The Division of Student Affairs has made great strides in mandating training for all new students over the last several years.”
He states that faculty should follow the same training, “I am asking Dr. Ida Gibson—our newly appointed Director for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion—to develop, over the course of the rest of the academic year, appropriate training that we will begin rolling out for all faculty and staff starting this coming fall.”
The following day students held a walk out protest on campus at Wick. The protest was organized by the Black Student Union and was termed “I am Offended.”
During the “sit in” BSU president Carlos McKnight explained why the students were protesting.
Below are the demands levied from the protesters. The image is courtesy of The Black Student Union Instagram page.
SGA member Alysha Jackson said that, the protest “was peaceful” and it was not necessarily about the picture but rather the “micro-aggressions” on campus as a whole.
SGA vice president Telena Smith said, this (the protest) was a way to address the fact that “cultural competency is lacking on campus.”
Following the protest, the office of president Olson issued another letter to campus.
The president supported student efforts saying, “I applaud the constructive manner in which they have worked to create awareness for these important issues.”
He also said, “We are going to continue working on these and other areas that are necessary in order to lead the College, and all of its community members, to an even greater understanding of diversity and inclusivity.”
A member of the black student union named Sherene Bennett was at the protest. She estimated that there were “fifty people at the walk out.” Sherene spoke about both of the letters that the president sent to campus saying, “in my opinion he did not respond, he did not address the issue.”
Sherene Criticized the way that the president responded to the protest, saying that “students would want to see his expression so they know what he is thinking.”
She suggested that the ‘president make an appearance at a BSU meeting or invite them (student protesters) to meet with him.’
Both BSU president McKnight and SGA president Marquez have confirmed that daemen ‘president Olson has met with them to discuss issues on campus and ways that administration and students can work together to create plausible solutions.’