Chancellor and KPB coordinator address incident perceived as racist act​​​​​​​

Illustration by: Rebecca Kottke

Illustration by: Rebecca Kottke

A controversial snapchat was posted with UMD’s geographical tag on Thursday night at a showing of the film “Annabelle,” hosted by Kirby Program Board (KPB). Concern quickly spread on campus as the snapchat depicted an African American doll hanging from the ceiling by a string in a lecture hall doorway. According to Hamza Ali, KPB Coordinator, the doll was supposed to be a decoration representing the theme of the movie.

“It was taken completely out of context,” Ali said. “We usually take every movie into consideration and try to give it a theme. So we put a poster out in the hallway, closed the door, turned all the lights off, had the lights going, popcorn, candy and we placed the doll in the entrance so as you walk in you’re forced to open the door and see the doll.”

The snapchat did not depict any of the other decorations or surrounding activity, so many of the people who saw the photo believed it to be an act of racism.

Mike Kenyanya, Student Association President, was sent screenshots of the snapchat early Friday morning.

“I didn’t know all of the facts and I felt as SA president that it was something I should keep an eye on and learn more about,” Kenyanya said. “I reached out to our Student Association advisor, Dr. Corbin Smyth, to talk through it and he told me to file an official report with conduct.”

However, someone else had already filed a complaint with the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution so Kenyaya waited and connected with both Ali and Lynne Williams, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at UMD, the following day.

The university is now conducting an investigation and released a statement saying, “UMD does not condone this type of behavior and is deeply disturbed by the message it sends. Creating a safe and inclusive campus is one of our core values and a critically important aspect of our campus community.”

Chancellor Black was added as a speaker at a “March to Dismantle the Legacy of Racism” that ended at City Hall with a rally on Saturday. He had prepared a speech to address the situation on campus, however, when he went up to speak he disregarded what he had prepared and did not comment on the snapchat.

Community members march down Superior Street during the "March to Dismantle the Legacy of Racism" last Saturday. Photo by Ellie Gerst 

Community members march down Superior Street during the "March to Dismantle the Legacy of Racism" last Saturday. Photo by Ellie Gerst 

“I just felt that coming at the end, it was not appropriate for me to give a speech,” Black said. “It just did not seem like the right thing to do. I feel like it was an outstanding event and I really applaud the people who organized it and who gave so much of themselves to make it happen.”

In regards to the snapchat incident, Black said he was very concerned about it.

“It’s still not clear exactly who did this and why they did it but regardless of the reasons, the image of a hanging African American doll is horrendous,” Black said. “It’s not appropriate in my mind because it connotes so many difficult things in our country and from our past and from our present.”

Chancellor Black continued to say he hoped that this could be a teaching moment for all involved. Ali also issued a statement on behalf of KPB. The full statement can be found here.

“As a black man, I appreciate the readiness of my community to speak out against any incident that could resemble lynching or anti-blackness in any form,” Ali wrote. “In the last day I’ve seen a community immediately respond to what they viewed as a call to action. I’m proud of my staff and thankful to UMD and the Duluth community for the chance to bring clarity to the situation.”


NewsEllie Gerst