The theme of the week was "Delta Blues Homecoming" and keeping with tradition, the students participated in different activities, including a lip sync contest on the quadrangle.
In the email sent out by LaForge, he wrote, "In the spirit of competition, members of a sorority in the National Panhellenic Conference at Delta State dressed and performed as well-known entertainers, whose costumes included such props as a wig and other theatrical dress. One student, a white sorority member, portrayed Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, and appeared in costume that included what is often referred to as 'black face.' Student leaders and campus advisors were not informed of the performance contents prior to the competition."
That student was a member of Kappa Delta Sorority of the Gamma Psi chapter.
LaForge continued, "After the event, an incident report was filed with the Delta State University Confidential Assessment Response Team (CART) alleging that one particular group displayed ‘concerning and threatening behavior’ (this system allows for confidential reporting of certain events on campus).
"The reasons for the report cited the DSU Student Handbook Regulations, items No. 16 ‘Disorderly, lewd, indecent, or obscene conduct, or language,’ and No. 32 ‘Displaying disrespect toward diverse populations.’
“The report was immediately routed to Elsie Lynn Ervin, Director of Student Life and chair of the CART organization (a discreet group of faculty and staff who respond to duly reported alerts). Ms. Ervin subsequently met with the members of CART to review the report," LaForge said in his email.
According the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memoribilia Web site, blackface began as part of Minstral Shows where white actors would cover their face in black makeup. “The white actors would then usually play up negative black stereotypes in the process."
LaForge expressed in his email that he and the university did not believe the students involved in this were doing so to be offensive or racist.
"Those involved with the investigation determined that there was no malicious or hateful intent in the actions of the group. Rather, the group’s behavior reflected a failure to use proper judgment regarding sensitivity to race," he said.
Don Allan Mitchell, president of faculty senate, sees this as a moment for students of DSU to learn why this act is such a big deal.
"This is, indeed, a teachable moment. Delta State University is here to educate, first and foremost. When a hurtful, deeply wounding action like this occurs on our campus, we feel as if we have miseducated our students in some way," Mitchell said.
Due to their misjudgment, the Kappa Delta lip sync participants will be facing consequences.
The Co-Advisors of the Student Government Association, Linda Ross and Davlon Miller, met with SGA President Sydney Hodnett and made the decision to disqualify the group from winning any spirit activities and awards during Homecoming week.
The president then met with Steve McClellan, vice president for finance and administration, to lead a Ccabinet-level inquiry.
Due to Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Wayne Blansett being on medical leave, McClellan was asked to step in.
Monday, McClellan and LaForge met with Ervin, Miller and Georgene Clark, chair of the diversity committee, to gather all of the facts, as well as to hear the recommendations from the CART.
"After considerable dialogue, revisions were made to the recommendations for an appropriate response, and sanctions were discussed and adopted," said LaForge.
As a result, the following sanctions have been placed on the offending organization — the Delta State Chapter of Kappa Delta Sorority:
"Chapter members who participated in the lip sync are to apologize face-to-face to the president of Delta State University (and other family members who may be available).
"Chapter members who participated in the lip sync are to apologize face-to-face to the judges of the lip sync contest.
"Chapter members who participated in the lip sync are to apologize face-to-face to the Career Ambassadors (the final performing group comprised of all African –American students).
"A written apology to the administration, faculty, staff and student body of Delta State University is to be submitted to the Delta Statement for the next paper printed.
"All members of the chapter are to be present at the next available Student Government Association meeting, since the activities of Homecoming Week were sponsored by the SGA. A verbal apology is to be given to the SGA members present.
"The group is to plan, execute, and attend a diversity program, open to all members of the campus community, before the Christmas holidays. This includes, but is not limited to, having a speaker versed in the need for respect for all races, ethnicities, and the diversity of our campus, as well as any cost incurred for this program.
"Chapter members are to participate in 20 hours per individual member in community service with a multicultural focus. Examples are, but not limited to, the Delta State University spring conference on race relations, the Diversity Committee programming, chapter programming focused on multicultural education, and/or other events approved by the University Diversity Committee."
All of these sanctions must be completed by April 1.
During the lip sync on the quad, as a judge, the president stood up and gave a standing ovation during the Kappa Delta performance, which upset members of the Delta State community. Because of this, LaForge chose to address the matter in his email.
"As one of four judges for the night’s event, I was surprised to learn that a wig and brown makeup were used in the performance. Based on the great distance between the judges’ table and the stage, my son, who was also a judge, and I thought the lead character was in fact an African-American student playing the role of Whoopi Goldberg.
"I applauded and stood for this group (just as I did for all of the performing groups) to show my support and without knowledge of the full costume effect.
"When I learned of the offensive action the next evening, I was outraged and disappointed, and I set out to determine what, why, and how it happened," said LaForge.
"The action of our students at the lip sync contest was wrong. Appropriate apologies have been made and will be made. This incident evidenced poor judgment and cultural insensitivities. This type of behavior will not be tolerated on this campus," said LaForge.
The university hopes to use this incident as a teachable moment. Through several of these sanctions students will learn more about why "black face" is offensive, as well as how to handle sensitive matters.
Mitchell, who also teaches history and literature of the blues at DSU, said, "As we move forward, we will redouble our efforts to educate our students, not only about African American culture and history, but also about civility and understanding.
"Now is the time to foster forgiveness, compassion, and healing, and we will do what we can to make sure that Delta State University moves forward, together."