Maryland Art College apologizes for “whites only” policy in place for nearly 60 years

The policy held by Maryland Institute College of Art kept non-white students out, now it is using art to explore the racism in its past and acknowledge the harm it caused

MICA (Facebook)

The Maryland Institute College of Art is finally addressing its racist past through an exhibit curated by one of its students. Now the school’s president, Samuel Hoi is apologizing for an old policy that barred Black students from its halls.

Featuring a racist caricature of a Black employee from an early 1900s school’s yearbook as the center of her photo exhibit, photography student Deyane Moses used her assignment to confront the Baltimore school’s history with segregation.

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According to The Baltimore Sun, Moses used a series of photos to create her exhibit called “Blackives” from the school’s archives to address the school’s legacy. Moses also built the Maryland Institute Black Archives that uses MICA’s records and other archives to “largely invisible presence of black artists”, according to the project’s online site.

Hoi apologized Thursday on behalf of the school’s policy in a memo that states, “MICA as an institution — represented by its president, vice presidents and board of trustees — apologizes for its historical denial of access to talented students for no other reason than the color of their skin, and for the hardships to those who were admitted but not supported for their success,” after visiting the exhibit.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that MICA permitted Black students to attend the school.

“They’ve been shut out,” Moses said.

On a wall of Moses’ one-room display, photos of current students of color at the school are shown to show the school’s progression.

Moses interviewed the students pictured in the photos about their experiences being at a majority-white art school. Many revealed to Moses that even today they feel underrepresented and unsupported.

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Hoi said in his online apology that exhibit is used as a platform to “own and confront” the school’s history.

“An institutional acknowledgment in the form of an apology, no matter how sincere, is empty unless it is rooted in a systemic commitment for change and unless it represents meaningful action that is in progress,” Hoi said.

The online memo details the school’s racism that dates back to the 19th century as well. In it, he noted the admission of a Black student, Harry T. Pratt, in 1891 was met with vicious protest from faculty and students. After he graduated in 1895, the school instituted a whites-only policy that stayed on the books until 1954. 

Moses’ exhibit display has been extended and will be reinstalled in the Main Building on the campus, according to the university.

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*Correction Note: An earlier version of this story said a racist caricature of a Black student was from an early 1990s yearbook at the Maryland Institute College of Art. In fact, it was an early 1900s yearbook.