The university administration and its students, faculty, and staff are deeply concerned by the offensive and hurtful image captured in the photo at the Emmett Till historical marker. Given that we first learned about this incident in March, the university launched an internal review last week of our handling of the incident report about the photo, and we discovered a breakdown in communications between units on our campus. Our ongoing review has updated our understanding of some key facts in this process, and we are committed to keeping you informed.
On March 6, an incident report including the names of two individuals was submitted to the university. The Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) notified the University Police Department, the Dean of Students, the Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct, and Fraternal Leadership & Learning within 24 hours. On March 7, we confirmed that one of the men was enrolled in the spring 2019 term, while the other was not. UPD referred the allegations to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to examine them further.
Because UPD had referred the matter to the FBI, the Office of Conflict Resolution & Student Conduct and Fraternal Leadership & Learning deferred any further action until hearing back from the FBI. This is a correction from our prior statement that said otherwise.
On March 20, BIRT sought an update from UPD, which responded to say the FBI had not reported back yet. On April 2, UPD received an update that the FBI concluded that the photo did not represent a specific threat. Because of a lapse in communication, several units on campus did not learn from UPD about the FBI’s decision. In addition, BIRT did not confirm the final status of the referral to the FBI. At this time, the BIRT process has not concluded. We will proceed accordingly to make all appropriate referrals and assessments.
All staff members who were involved in this process demonstrated an ongoing commitment to deal with this matter seriously, and the university is committed to ensuring that this process will function as intended. At the same time, we are continuing our review of the actions by the university and the processes that will govern such actions in the future. We will continue to update the university community on our progress.
Larry D. Sparks