UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank offered an apology Monday for the university’s response to a controversial costume depicting President Barack Obama in a noose worn at an Oct. 29 football game.
“I am personally very sorry that the hurt that this incident and our response to it has caused,” Blank said at a Faculty Senate meeting. “I have heard from students, faculty and community members who are dissatisfied with our response and I understand why. A noose is the symbol of some of the worst forms of racial hatred and intimidation in our country’s history. We understand this, and we should have communicated that more forcefully from the very beginning ... I understand the deeply hurtful impact this particularly has on our students and communities of color.”
President of Wisconsin Union and UW-Madison student Deshawn McKinney said he is looking forward to sitting down with Blank and other administrators to talk beyond this instance to continue implementing initiatives that are proactive in nature rather than reactive.
"I think it's important that Chancellor Blank issue an apology, while also recognizing that apologies ring hollow when they have to be made so often," McKinney said. "The university has been making strides, but these setbacks cut deep in their visceral nature. We cannot be focused on coddling the majority while minoritized students get sacrificed in the process."
Blank said the season tickets of “a pair of individuals related to this event” have been revoked. She explained the punishment came because the person using the tickets brought a prohibited item into the stadium, and failed to follow the directions of event staff. Blank said there will be more information in the days ahead.
Following the initial incident, Blank issued a statement that both deemed the costume offensive and asserted the free speech right to wear the costume.
“As offensive as this costume was, I believe our university must resist the desire to outlaw forms of speech and political dissent with which we disagree,” Blank said in the statement.
The responses from Blank and the university quickly drew the ire of students and alumni, who called the costume a form of hate speech. Blank and Alvarez then issued a joint statement Nov. 1 saying the university would be reconsidering stadium policies. The Associated Students of Madison Student Council condemned the tepidness of the university’s response at their meeting Wednesday.
“They are talking about this in the realm of the First Amendment ... We were dancing around the issues,” Student Council member Mariam Coker said. “The issue is cultural humility and cultural competency.”
The poster also led to the appearance of posters on campus reading, “A man was lynched at UW yesterday & guess what they called it.”
“We continue to be a long way from where we want to be,” Blank said. “We will learn from this incident, and we will do better next time.”
Blank reiterated that carry-in policies are being reviewed for Camp Randall and other sports venues. Changes in the ticket and carry-in policies will be announced prior to Saturday’s football game against Illinois, according to Blank. The chancellor also said other policy reviews will require broader campus input, which will take place over a longer period of time.
UPDATE Nov. 7 8:41 p.m.: This story was updated to include an additional student response.