News 5 Investigates: University of South Alabama professors under scrutiny after “racially insensitive” photos resurface

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MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — The University of South Alabama is responding after controversial photos of three professors resurface.    

Many are calling those photos racially insensitive.  

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. 

“That makes me feel like since other cultures are starting to come here, that they don’t want us here or we’re unwanted because they want it to stay a PWI or a predominately Caucasian institution,” said student Samantha Longmire.  

“We have Black students on campus, how do you think that makes them feel? Do you care about your students,” said student Chante Moore.   

The photos were first posted in 2014.  

They’re now deleted from the college’s Facebook page. 

USA President Tony Waldrop condemning “any and all racist images or symbols,” also admitting that the administration was aware of photos last year, and without going into detail, saying their response wasn’t strong enough.   

“It’s disappointing, however, it’s not surprising,” said Jason Barnes, an alumnus and former president of USA’s NAACP chapter.  “I think about Black students particularly. All minorities on the campus but particularly Black students because that noose obviously has a direct correlation with Black people as it pertains to violence against them, especially racialized violence and terror.”  

President Waldrop issued a lengthy statement: 

“The photographs depicting members of the University of South Alabama tenured faculty wearing and holding offensive symbols are contrary to the principles of diversity and inclusion that our University strives to incorporate into all of our decisions and actions. We condemn the use of any and all racist images or symbols, which are not acceptable in any context on our campus.  

“The actions the University took in response to these pictures, which were photographed at an on-campus party in 2014 and brought to the attention of University leadership in 2020, should have been stronger and broader, and should have more strongly demonstrated an unwavering commitment to a safe and welcoming environment for every member of our community. We acknowledge that, in our response, we failed in our obligations and responsibilities to our students, our employees and our community. For this, we are deeply sorry to everyone who is rightfully hurt and offended by these images. 

 “The University has worked diligently to create a campus climate that is diverse, welcoming and inclusive. We created a position for a chief diversity and inclusion officer, who started programs such as our Courageous Conversations series on race; enhanced our diversity training for students, faculty and staff; and created initiatives such as Campus to Career to assist with the retention and graduation of underrepresented students. We are in the process of placing diversity coordinators in each of our schools and college, and are continuously working on updated recruitment and hiring strategies to ensure a more diverse pool of candidates for jobs. But we can always do better.  

“This week, I will ask every member of our University community to reflect on this incident, and to bring forth ideas within the next 30 days for concrete actions that we can take to make sure we do better in the future than we have in the past. I have asked our Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer to review these ideas, couple them with the results of our currently underway campus climate survey, and develop a clear plan and path forward for the University. We cannot, should not and will not attempt to erase our past failings. Instead, we will acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them, and commit ourselves to creating a campus environment that is respectful to all individuals and groups, at all times, without exception.  

“Our highest commitment and most important mission at the University of South Alabama is to education. This commitment includes the responsibility to learn from our mistakes. We are dedicated to doing so.”  

President Tony Waldrop, University of South Alabama

Bob Wood has since been demoted from dean to professor in the last few weeks.  

The school wouldn’t say why, citing personnel reasons.  

He said in a statement:  

“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. I sincerely apologize and am sorry for doing so, and ask for forgiveness for this error in judgment. I regret the decision, and I understand the hurtful nature of these symbols, which do not reflect my beliefs. Working at the University of South Alabama, guiding students through their academic careers, and having a positive impact on them as they prepare for their next steps in life has been one of the greatest honors of my professional life. I have learned from this error, and I am committed to doing better in the future.” 

Bob Wood, University of South Alabama Professor

Alex Sharland also issued an apology, which said: 

“In retrospect I can see why someone might find the image hurtful, and I regret this attempt at humor that clearly failed. It was not my intent to hurt or be offensive, and if anyone is offended by this picture I apologize. It was not my intent to offend and I have learned from this experience.” 

Alex Sharland, University of South Alabama Professor

Teresa Weldy chose not to apologize.   

“Unless those professors take the necessary steps towards restorative justice, their apology means nothing. And it’s a slap in the face to those students,” Barnes said.   

NOTE: The university is correcting their earlier statement that all three professors are tenured. WKRG News 5 has confirmed that Teresa Weldy is not tenured.

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