Students who wore blackface to an off-campus party sparked such an outcry on campus that officials at Whitman College canceled classes Thursday so students and faculty could attend a diversity symposium.
Ruth Wardwell, Whitman’s director of public relations, said that students wore blackface to mimic the cast of “Survivor: Cook Islands,” which divided the teams by ethnic origin at the start of the CBS reality show’s current season.
After pictures of the students’ costumes were posted on online social networking sites, the stunt touched off a fiery debate about race on an all-campus e-mail list. That prompted faculty members to vote to cancel classes.
“This is a day that is dedicated to a campus-wide discussion of issues that are important to our Whitman community,” the 1,450-student private school in Walla Walla said in an e-mail to students.
About 3 percent of Whitman’s students are black. Asians, Hispanics and American Indians account for about 15 percent, and about 80 percent of students are white.
The event was being organized by students and faculty, with the administration’s blessing, Wardwell said. It will be “based on scholarly research, opinion and individual perspective,” Wardwell said, and is not open to the public.
An agenda for the symposium includes sessions on the biology of race, a history of race and civil rights, a curriculum discussion and a film discussion.
A phone call to the school’s Black Student Union rang unanswered Wednesday, and four of its student leaders did not immediately return e-mails seeking comment.