WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University will conduct a “full-scale investigation” after being informed about “disturbing” social media posts involving one of its student-athletes.
In a news release Friday morning, SU President Tracy Fitzsimmons did not specify the nature of the posts. But she did say, “As we stated earlier this week, we have no tolerance for racial injustice at Shenandoah.” Organizations and schools across the country have been speaking out against racial injustice following the death of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody on May 25 in Minneapolis after an officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Fitzsimmons said, “We have now confirmed the identities of both people in the posts; one is a Shenandoah student and the other is not.” Fitzsimmons did not provide the name of the SU student-athlete.
When asked if Fitzsimmons could be interviewed to provide more details, SU media relations coordinator Becky Layne stated in an email that Fitzsimmons “will not be making any further comments as this is a student conduct issue that is under review.”
On Wednesday evening, the SU Athletics department posted a message on Twitter stating that it had been “informed about a social media post involving one of our student-athletes.” Part of the message included the sentence: “Diversity, inclusion and equity are core values of Shenandoah University.”
On Thursday afternoon, The Winchester Star received a message on Instagram and an email concerning that statement. The Instagram post was sent anonymously, while the person who sent the email wished to remain anonymous. Both submissions included the same iPhone pictures of an Instagram photo.
The Instagram photo shows two young white women. Their faces are covered in a dark substance, except for a thin strip of skin at the tops of their foreheads and around their eyes. The substance appears to be some type of cosmetic beauty treatment. At the bottom of the post, what can be read are the letters “LOL” and the message “we’re black! #goals.”
The anonymous person who sent the email also included a picture of another post from the same Instagram user. An “LOL” word bubble covers a letter after “bu”, but what can be read is “black bu we going back /#sadness.”
In announcing the investigation — which will involve SU’s Conduct Team and Dean of Students — Fitzsimmons said that SU had “heard your voices” in regard to the social media posts. Several people on Twitter were critical of Wednesday’s SU athletics post, which also included the statement: “The content is not reflective of the values of our athletic program nor the student-athlete involved.”
“We understand the harm images like these can cause inside and outside of our institution,” Fitzimmons said. “Especially in times like these when we need to stand as one community.”
Fitzsimmons added it is essential for SU both to “speak up and to act.” She announced several measures in hopes that SU can do better in the areas of discrimination and diversity.
• The establishment of an anonymous system to report discrimination.
In a Zoom call, SU Vice President for Student Affairs Yolanda Barbier Gibson said the university currently has a process in place where anyone can submit “student of concern” forms. These reports on students can be filed anonymously and go to the Dean of Students office.
Gibson said SU is in the process of creating a separate form for bias incidents that is being reviewed by senior administration and could be available as soon as next week, if not immediately. That will be reviewed by the Dean of Students office and the Mosaic Center for Diversity. SU Provost Adrienne Bloss added that the bias report system was in the works before Floyd’s death.
• Mandatory diversity and inclusion training for all faculty and staff. That will take place this summer with the Department of Public Safety, athletics, vice president and presidential offices, staff council and the faculty senate. When residents assistants and new students report to campus, they will also be included in training.
Gibson said those involved in the Mosaic Center and SU’s PRIDE (President’s Representatives on Inclusion, Diversity & Equity) department — which includes faculty and staff — will handle that training.
Bloss added there are different forms of diversity training for different situations. She said a few years ago, SU began having all faculty search committees go through training to make sure there isn’t bias in the recruiting process.
• The establishment of a diversity scholarship to support recruitment and retention of students of color in underrepresented programs.
• A community dialogue to reconsider the name of the business school, which is named after former U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd, Jr. There’s a petition on change.org seeking to get SU to do this, stating that Byrd is “infamous for fighting against the desegregation of schools across the commonwealth.”
“We are currently discussing the name of the business school and listening to feedback from the Shenandoah community and alumni,” Layne said. “The conversations are ongoing.”
• Deans and faculty will review SU’s curricula to ensure that its academic programs reflect and support the diversity of its history and society.
Bloss added that in the fall of 2018, SU started Shenandoah Conversations, which is a way for students and faculty to address difficult topics by discussing them in small groups.
“We recognized at the time that we’re not very good at this as a society, and this is a role that higher education needs to play,” Bloss said. “There’s not any kind of topic we’re looking at, just things that are hard for people to talk about. ... When we have conversations, we want to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to speak and everybody has an opportunity be heard."