The president of the University of Richmond, Ronald Crutcher, writes that he finds himself in a dilemma.
Drink in hand, the student, Michael Kizzie, stands smiling on a table in what appears to be a fraternity house. He has a mock noose around his neck, and he is surrounded by unidentifiable — but presumably white — classmates in Ku Klux Klan robes, as some sort of sick joke.
This picture is from a 1980 yearbook photo, yet Crutcher laments that he has to make the phone call.
The student-driven Race and Racism at the University of Richmond Project had excavated a number of racist yearbook images, including the one of Mr. Kizzie but others too, starting in 2016. A reporter came across our publicly available archive of yearbooks and posted a tweet containing the noose photo. The post came in the immediate aftermath of the controversy surrounding racist photos in Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it went viral in the university community.
It may seem obvious, if not beyond compelling, that the best possible reaction would be to use this as a teaching opportunity. After all, Crutcher is president of a college, and the pic went viral in the school’s community, which presumably includes a student or two. But that notion doesn’t appear to occur to Crutcher. Instead, the only call considered was one for condemnation.
I was appalled by the image, and in a message to the university community, I publicly condemned the racist photo as “repulsive to us” and “antithetical to the values of the university today.” And I was proud of the Race and Racism project, which has involved faculty and staff, for being part of our broader institutional initiative to address the challenges students of color have experienced at Richmond and at colleges across the country.
Could the same condemnation of the content of the image be achieved without making Kizzie the focus of outrage for his being complicit? Nah.
With all this in mind, I called Mr. Kizzie. Unlike the students hiding in K.K.K. robes, he acknowledged responsibility and told me he agreed that we must use the resurfacing of that ugly moment he was involved in as a learning opportunity. And he graciously offered to come back to campus to participate in an oral history interview with our students this fall.
Responsibility? For what? For being black at a time when something as outrageous as posing as a lynching victim of the Klan wasn’t considered so far beyond the pale as to be inconceivable? For being one of a handful of black students, trying his best to be a welcome member of the crowd, get along, survive? Did Crutcher think it was Kizzie’s idea to his fraternity brothers, “hey guys, let’s take a lynching pic with me being hung. It will be so cool”?
But I did feel empathy for Mr. Kizzie, a smart and genial alumnus, living out his private life as any of us do, only to suddenly be thrust into a negative spotlight for long-ago actions he both regretted and maybe had forgotten.
How kind of Crutcher to feel empathy. Is he a swell guy or what? But if he not only felt empathy, but used his friggin’ brain, he might instead have saved Kizzie from his bloodthirsty mob by standing before the jail like Atticus Finch (before he was reinvented to undermine the very point of Harper Lee’s classic) by explaining that Kizzie should not be demonized by his woke students today for what happened almost 40 years ago.
As I’ve hosted discussions on race and education, I’ve seen participants squirm a bit in their chairs. I’m sure there will be a few moments like that as Mr. Kizzie shares his story with students from this newest generation. These racial conversations are deeply uncomfortable at times. But they are just as necessary as they are difficult, if colleges are to match the aspiration of our mission statements: to be a welcoming place for young people of every background. Those of us who lead in higher education have no higher calling than to embrace this challenge head on. Our students — past, present and future — deserve no less.
What an unadulterated steaming pile of faux woke bullshit. You sold Kizzie down the drain rather than man up to the harder responsibility of protecting an alumnus from the mindless outrage of the mob of insipid little shits, then wrapped it up in the pretty bow of some “higher calling.” In 1980, Kizzie was the victim of a twisted racist joke. In 2019, he’s the victim of mob in search of people to hate and a university president only too happy to pass out torches to his baby mob.
Coward. Failure. Hypocrite. It was your job to protect Kizzie, to explain to the students why this was not his fault and he had no reason to apologize. Instead, you sold him out to the new mob to protect your own pathetic butt from them turning away from Kizzie and marching toward you.