NEWS 5 INVESTIGATES: USA announces mandatory diversity training in wake of controversial Halloween party pics

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MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — In a letter to students, faculty and staff, University of South Alabama President Tony Waldrop announced immediate changes following a News 5 investigation into photos of three professors who were dressed in racially insensitive costumes. The photos have resurfaced from an October 2014 Halloween on-campus party, showing then-Mitchell College of Business dean Bob Wood dressed as a Confederate general and professors Alex Sharland and Teresa Weldy posing with a whip and a noose. 

Last week students protested on campus, demanding change and asking that the professors be fired. Following our investigation, the three professors have been placed on leave pending an investigation.

In the message Waldrop says, “I’m writing to update our University community on several steps that have been taken in the last 10 days following photos that surfaced of faculty members at an on-campus costume party wearing and holding symbols that are offensive and hurtful.”

Waldrop says students, faculty and staff will be required to complete diversity training. The statement goes on to say, “we’re also in the process of expanding the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I’ve asked Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Paul Frazier to draft a job description for a new position in education and outreach that we are moving to fill as soon as possible. This will be in addition to diversity coordinators that are being placed in each college and school.”

The university has hired outside counsel to investigate the 2014 incident. They will present their findings to University’s Equal Employment Opportunity Committee.

FULL UNEDITED STATEMENT:

March 11, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty, Staff and Alumni,

I’m writing to update our University community on several steps that have been taken in the last 10 days following photos that surfaced of faculty members at an on-campus costume party wearing and holding symbols that are offensive and hurtful.

Last week, I asked members of our community to bring forth ideas within 30 days that will guide us in developing a clear plan and path forward for the University. I’ve been encouraged and appreciative of the excellent and constructive ideas and perspectives I’ve received to date.

Although there is still time to submit your thoughts and suggestions, we’re ready to act on a proposal offered by the Student Government Association asking that students, faculty and staff be required to complete diversity training.

We will utilize and expand on the work by the SGA and USA’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion that resulted in the creation of training modules that are offered voluntarily to the University community. For faculty and staff, this requirement will be in addition to the biannual training they complete on discrimination and harassment.

We’re also in the process of expanding the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I’ve asked Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Paul Frazier to draft a job description for a new position in education and outreach that we are moving to fill as soon as possible. This will be in addition to diversity coordinators that are being placed in each college and school.

By the end of March, we will form a committee that will categorize and review each of the ideas that are being submitted. We will use them, along with the results of our campus climate survey, to come up with a list of proposals for strengthening diversity, inclusion and equity on campus. We can do more, and we will. The committee will be transparent in its process and proposals. You can continue to submit ideas to Dr. Frazier or myself.

The plan we put together will build upon the initiatives already begun in the last several years, including the creation of Offices of Diversity and Inclusion at the University and USA Health; the development of a Campus to Career program to assist with the graduation and retention of underrepresented student populations; and the endowment of a Leadership in Social Justice and Perseverance Scholarship in conjunction with the 100 Black Men of Greater Mobile.

As I reported to the University community late last week, we have engaged outside counsel to investigate the matter of the faculty members pictured at the 2014 costume party. The investigating attorney will submit a report to the University’s Equal Employment Opportunity Committee, pursuant to the University’s policies of non-discrimination and equal opportunity/equal access.

I would like to thank everyone who is submitting ideas and engaging in this process. Together, we will make South better tomorrow than it is today.

Tony Waldrop, Ph.D.
President

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