The University of South Alabama is conducting an independent investigation into two photographs taken at an on-campus costume party held in 2014 at the Mitchell College of Business. The photos depict three faculty members — Bob Wood, Alex Sharland, and Teresa Weldy — “wearing and holding symbols that are offensive and are contrary to our core principles of diversity and inclusion,” according to a statement today from USA President Tony Waldrop.
More specifically, Wood was photographed wearing a Confederate-themed military uniform, while Sharland was dressed as a judge and photographed with Weldy holding a noose. Last month, USA students organized a petition to fire the three faculty members, saying the photographs depict “blatantly racist symbols of hatred and violence towards the African-American community.”
“These photographs were then posted on the [Mitchell College of Business] Facebook for the public to see without any sign of remorse or recognition of wrong-doing (sic),” the petition reads. “Though South says that these photographs were brought to their attention, action was taken, and the original photographs were removed in 2020, the fact that these professors are still currently employed by the University shows a deep failure to commit to a safe, welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds.”
A total of 2,506 people had signed the petition as of this morning.
Earlier this week, Waldrop acknowledged the controversy and assured “the University would address this situation in a manner that demonstrates our unwavering commitment to diversity, inclusion, and a safe and welcoming environment for every member of our community.”
Today, he announced an independent investigation would be led by attorney Suntrease Williams-Maynard, a former trial attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Mobile and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama and the Southern District of Texas.
Williams-Maynard is expected to investigate the matter and submit an investigative report to University leadership for further action, pursuant to the University’s policies of non-discrimination and equal opportunity/equal access, the statement said.
“The faculty members involved have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation and any related proceedings,” Waldrop said. “Along with the leadership of the University, I assure you that we are treating this situation with the utmost seriousness and with a commitment to acting upon the results of the investigation. In the meantime, please join me in continuing our ongoing work to make the USA community one that proudly and steadfastly treats every person with respect and dignity.”
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