Three professors at the University of South Alabama (USA) have been put on leave after photos resurfaced of them wearing racially insensitive costumes at a Halloween party.
The photos, taken at a USA business school Halloween party on campus in 2014, showed professors Alex Sharland and Teresa Weldy posing with a whip and a noose and then Mitchell College of Business dean Bob Wood dressed as a Confederate general.
After the photos recently resurfaced, students created a petition describing the professors as “wearing and holding blatantly racist symbols of hatred and violence towards the African-American community”.
The students called for the professors to be fired, with the petition garnering around 2,500 signatures, while two protests gathered near the campus Bell Tower on Friday.
“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,” the petition organisers wrote.
Student Jaylen Williams told WKRG-TV: “Take professors, who are in the power to educate and be around students that have racist attributes or do racist things and think that is funny or cool, out of this university.”
An independent investigation has been ordered and the professors have been placed on leave in response to the outcry over the resurfaced photos, the university’s president, Tony Waldrop, announced in a statement on Friday.
The investigation will be conducted by Suntrease Williams-Maynard, a former assistant US attorney and trial lawyer for the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Mobile, Alabama.
In his statement on Friday, Mr Waldrop said that the university has “pledged our full cooperation to Ms Williams-Maynard in her investigation”.
He added: “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 [University of South Alabama] community one that proudly and steadfastly treats every person with respect and dignity.”
Mr Wood and Mr Sharland apologised for their costumes in an online post last week, with the former writing: “Seven years ago, I rented and wore a last-minute costume that was ill-conceived to a faculty and student Halloween costume contest, at which I served on a panel of judges to select the winners.”
He added: “I sincerely apologise and am sorry for doing so, and ask for forgiveness for this error in judgment.”
Mr Sharland said that “in retrospect I can see why someone might find the image hurtful, and I regret this attempt at humour that clearly failed”, adding: “It was not my intent to hurt or be offensive, and if anyone is offended by this picture I apologise.”
Ms Weldy, who is a tenured professor at the university, has not yet publicly commented on the investigation or the pictures.
The Independent has contacted Ms Weldy for comment.