University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank released a statement Sunday in response to a fan who wore a costume as President Barack Obama in a noose at Saturday’s Wisconsin-Nebraska football game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis.
“(Saturday), during what should have been an athletic contest that united the Badger community, an individual wore a costume to Camp Randall that for many of us evoked images of lynchings of African-Americans from this country’s past,” Blank said. “The hateful message this sends to our entire community is contrary to our deeply held values — civility, respect, and the celebration of diversity.”
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In a statement released on Saturday, the university said its guest services staff asked the fan to remove the costume, and he obliged. Wisconsin also said masks are not allowed to be worn entering the stadium but can be worn once fans are inside.
“The costume, while repugnant and counter to the values of the university and athletic department, was an exercise of the individual’s right to free speech,” the university said in a statement. “The university also exercised its rights by asking the individual to remove the offensive parts of the costume.”
The University of Wisconsin-Madison police department also said on Twitter that the costume was a form of free speech.
In response to those who questioned why the fan was not ejected for wearing the costume, Blank said the costume fell within the university’s policies and the handling of the incident “was consistent with our handling of other instances of individuals wearing clothing containing offensive language.”
“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. “We strive to build a campus community in which ideas and expression are exchanged freely, but also constructively, respectfully and in a manner that advances educational opportunities for our students.
“On a personal level,” Blank added, “I can say this costume and expression fell painfully short of this standard.”
The person who tweeted out the photo of the costume that went viral later tweeted a brief video of the same fan — whose affiliation to the university is not known — wearing a Hillary Clinton mask being led by the noose out of the section of the stadium by another fan wearing a Donald Trump mask.
It APPEARS the men were first asked to removed the Obama mask then asked to leave. This was their exit... pic.twitter.com/Xv1UxMOfaW— (@woahohkatie) October 30, 2016
The subject of the costume from the game is expected to come up at the university’s annual fall diversity forum on Tuesday.
Athletic Business interviewed the University of Wisconsin athletic department’s newly hired director of diversity and inclusion, Jennifer Hunter, for the November/December issue. Shortly after the official announcement of Hunter’s hiring in September, some Facebook commenters insinuated that she got the job because she is African-American.
“It didn’t bother me personally, because I expected the backlash,” Hunter told AB about the social media comments. “But it was the irony of it, right? This is the reason why I’m here in the first place.”