The University of Indiana ordered the removal this week of a racially charged bulletin board display from a residence hall lobby.
Messages intended to spark discussion are sometimes posted on the bulletin board for the Community Education Program at Foster Residence Center, but students complained about some of the messages posted in response to the question: “Can Santa Claus be a black man?”
The display featured an illustration of a black Santa Claus, and students complained that some of the other questions posed as part of the display served to reinforce negative stereotypes.
“If Santa is a black man, would you let him come down your chimney?” one discussion topic read, while others asked if a black Santa would “only visit the ghetto” or whether all the presents would be stolen.
“I was completely appalled with it,” said first-year student Alexus Johnson.
Students took their discussion to social media Monday evening, and a university spokesman said the display was part of a diversity program to prompt discussion on race, gender and sexual identity.
“The aim of this was to start a discussion around racial stereotypes, and while the intent was good the execution was misguided,” said Associate Vice President of Public Affairs Mark Land. “This program has a good record of fostering debate among students on important issues, but this effort missed the mark.”
The university ordered the bulletin board display be taken down Monday night within two hours of students shared photos of it on Twitter and Instagram, but students said they weren’t upset by the discussion itself but by the terms used in the display.
“It really hit home for a lot of students and it really hurt a lot of students,” said senior Leighton Johnson. “They’re just angry about this poster being up.”
A member of the student-led CommUNITY Education Program, which promotes diversity, was credited with putting up the display, and the group will meet with university officials to discuss the incident.
“Stereotypes need to be brought up in discussion because they do exist, but they need to be done in a tasteful manner,” said first-year student Destani McGruder.
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