Phelan Disrespected: A Letter From the Black Students at USF

Dear USF Community,

Last month, one of our community members received an abhorrent photo from his roommate. Taken in Phelan Hall, it depicted an African American male with a rope around his neck, remarkably similar to lynching. The rope was being held by another non-black undergraduate student. The disturbing photograph was later circulated within the USF community. The photo simply, yet explicitly exposes the recurring challenges of being a black student at the University of San Francisco.

The incident shook the community to its core. The Vice Provost of Student Life, Julie Orio, immediately issued a statement, suggesting impacted parties seek out campus resources and support. The Cultural Centers Umoja drop-in space, which is generally used for open dialogue and community building, was instead dedicated to black students, faculty and staff for vocalizing their concerns about the incident. Student Housing and Residential Education provided space during their monthly mega-meeting for open discussion concerning the photograph and its dissemination.

Understandingly, black students and others have expressed shock, grief and anger in response to the photo. Some still remain unaware of the tremendous impact of the visual image. Comments such as “It’s 2016. Why is this a problem?” filled USF’s campus, aiming to divert from the participants’ actions by categorizing the photo as a joke, attempting to minimize the true impact of the photo. Regardless of the intent, this particular incident still had a deep impact on our community, which outweighs any justification an individual could provide.

Lynching black women, men and children was historically a popular practice in the United States, aimed to terrorize, oppress and murder black people. A rope would be tied around the victim’s neck and used to hang them. The victim hung until their neck broke from the weight of their body, or they perished from asphyxiation. Unfortunately, centuries later, individuals are still blind to such painful scenes as these.

History repeated itself in Phelan Hall, a dormitory that is named after a man who is known as a racist. The photo depicts white walls that surround an intense scene, in which a group of students did not understand the profound impact that their behavior would have on so many people. Ignorance permeated the air and diffused the minds of two people that are both products of the world we live in, a world of systemic racism. We’re in the 21st century, a more progressive era, but it feels like 1832, before blacks were even considered “free.” Some looked and just saw, while others looked and felt. Some people just saw a photo of two students at USF performing a humorous act. Others saw centuries of defeat and felt pain and agony. Members of the black community felt extreme hatred, rejection and unwelcome nostalgia of the most excruciating times of their history. They felt betrayed by the very same community that claimed to be the most inclusive.


Asaundra Dalton, Heavyn Jackson, Ashley Jones, and Cristal Harris


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