College won’t punish students for blackface photo, citing First Amendment

Four college students in Colorado posted a photo of themselves in blackface, setting off outrage online — but they won’t be disciplined because they’re protected by the First Amendment, university officials said.

The photo, which was posted on Instagram over the weekend, shows four unidentified white Colorado State University students in blackface with a caption reading “Wakanda forevaa,” a reference to Marvel’s “Black Panther” hit film.

The image was quickly blasted by critics who demanded university officials to get involved.

“Anybody that tries to justify this behavior is equally as ignorant and offensive,” one woman wrote on Facebook.

One man who said he attended the university posted on Facebook that the image was “not surprising” at all, while another detractor characterized it as “disgusting and absolutely unacceptable” as they called for consequences, a Facebook thread shows.

But university officials insist their hands were tied, saying that personal social media accounts aren’t under its jurisdiction.

“Our community members — students, faculty and staff — can generally post whatever they wish to post on their personal online accounts in accordance with their First Amendment rights,” CSU president Joyce McConnell wrote in a statement released Tuesday. “This recent post runs counter to our principles of community, but it does not violate any CSU rule or regulation, and the First Amendment prohibits the university from taking any punitive action against those in the photo.”

McConnell’s statement also acknowledged that the photo caused a “great deal” of pain to the student body.

“We have heard from many of you — and we hear you,” the statement continued. “Moreover, we respect your voices. We know that images like this one — whether consciously racist or not — can perpetuate deliberate racism and create a climate that feels deeply hostile.”

McConnell said she hoped the incident could serve as a “powerful learning moment” at the university, but some critics blasted the decision as unfair.

“But if it were black students bullying, mocking whites, she would have kicked them out,” one woman wrote. “How I love the double standards ‘sic’.”

One of the students in the photo was identified on Facebook as Leana Kaplan. She apologized in a since-deleted post, according to a screenshot posted by another user.

“We all make mistakes and learn from them,” the post read. “I deeply regret any pain that my insensitive actions have caused. My mistake has hurt others, but it has also caused others to make me an unwarranted target. As we share our experience at CSU, let’s all learn together.”

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