University of Florida students' blackface Halloween costumes draw criticism

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A photo of University of Florida fraternity members wearing blackface at a Halloween party has been garnering criticism across the Internet and now the university, fraternity and the individuals involved are apologizing.

The Gainesville Sun reported that the university’s chapter of Beta Theta Pi hosted a Halloween party with a “rock stars and rappers” theme last week. That is where the photo of two fraternity members wearing dark paint, baseball caps and gold chains was taken.

The photo was posted on the UF NAACP chapter’s Facebook page the following day with the message, “Who’s party this is is not the issue but the fact that this is seen as acceptable is where the problem lies!”

“This comes up like clockwork every year around Halloween across the country at different colleges,” Katheryn Russell-Brown, UF law professor and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations, told the newspaper.

“What we’re talking about is not so much whether people can do this … but what message it sends and what kind of community we want to have,” she said.

The national fraternity, chapter president and fraternity members pictured in the photo have apologized for the incident.

A spokesman for Beta Theta Pi said UF’s chapter has 180 members and “dozens of members … who are African-American, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern and other ethnicities.”

The individuals wearing the costumes said they made “a very ignorant and poor decision” and they weren’t aware of the history of blackface.

“At no point in time were we ever trying to negatively portray African-American stereotypes,” they said in a statement. “We have since learned about the history of ‘blackface’ and fully understand how our actions were insulting to the African-American community.”

This isn’t the first time the University of Florida has gotten attention for blackface costumes. Last year, students dressed up as Florida Gators football players, donning brown paint and dreadlocks. The UF NAACP reminded the community of the incident by reposting the photo last week.

The university will hold a town hall meeting Thursday to discuss the issues around the Halloween costumes.

UF President Bernie Machen said in a statement, “I personally believe that demeaning any race is intolerable and completely counter to the welcoming and inclusive environment that UF has created for its broadly diverse campus community.”

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