Prestigious N.J. private school vows to become inclusive after racist alumni videos

"I do not believe that my language that night aligns with who I have tried to be as a person, the values I live by or the manner in which I have conducted myself as an athlete," Nate Panza said.
The Morristown-Beard School in Morristown, N.J.
The Morristown-Beard School in Morristown, N.J.Morristown-Beard School

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By Janelle Griffith

A prestigious private school in New Jersey has vowed to become "an inclusive and anti-racist community" after recent graduates appeared in a racist Snapchat video and current and former students of color started an Instagram account to share their experiences at the school.

Nate Panza, an incoming freshman and Cornell University football recruit who graduated from Morristown-Beard School, can be heard using the N-word in a Snapchat video recorded by a high school classmate around 1 a.m. Sunday, according to The Cornell Daily Sun, which first reported the video and his identity.

He acknowledged and apologized for his comments in a statement to the college newspaper. NBC News' attempts to reach Panza by phone were unsuccessful Friday.

Morristown-Beard is a private middle and high school that was founded in 1891.

In the video, shared online by TMZ, a person is seen smoking while someone off camera is heard using the N-word.

The camera then pans to Panza, who says, "Oh wait, you can't put that one up. You can't post that. Adam, you can't post that."

Another voice can then be heard invoking the name of George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, and using the N-word.

"Now that's f----- up," Panza says in response to the Floyd reference. "OK, you can't say that."

Cornell's director of athletics, Andy Noel, told TMZ on Tuesday that Panza will no longer be a part of the team.

"Cornell football was made aware of the video early Sunday afternoon. After viewing it, head football coach, David Archer, made the decision to rescind the individual's offer to join the team in the fall," Noel told NBC News in a statement Saturday. "There is no room for this behavior in Cornell Athletics."

On Sunday, the video surfaced on Twitter, where it was widely shared. Panza deleted his Instagram and Twitter accounts, according to The Sun.

The headmaster at Morristown-Beard School, Peter J. Caldwell, along with Board of Trustees President John F. Fay, wrote in a statement Sunday: "A video was posted on social media late last night of former MBS students using racially charged words. The content of the video is offensive and hurtful."

The statement added that policies at the school, where annual tuition is more than $42,000, do not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind.

"We have worked diligently with students and faculty to develop cultural competency programming and a curricula that are fully inclusive," the statement continued. "This unfortunate incident is a reminder of the work that still needs to be done by us as a school and as a nation."

Panza on Monday night apologized in a statement to The Sun.

"A video was taken of me using a word that is offensive and hurtful," he said. "The word has a long history of cruelty for the Black community and is simply wrong. I am heartbroken I have hurt people; those I know and those I do not. I take full responsibility for my actions.

"I do not believe that my language that night aligns with who I have tried to be as a person, the values I live by or the manner in which I have conducted myself as an athlete," he continued. "My immediate reaction to the video was to reach out to my entire high school community to offer my sincerest apologies."

Panza rushed for more than 1,200 yards and scored 17 touchdowns last season for the Morristown-Beard School, according to Morristown Green.

Cornell's Daily Sun reported that another recent graduate in the video had been accepted at the University of Richmond. The university tweeted Monday that it was investigating the matter.

The University of Richmond on Wednesday tweeted that it had rescinded an offer of admission to an incoming freshman "who posted an offensive and racially charged video on social media that did not reflect" the university's values or commitment to a thriving and inclusive community.

"Admission to the University of Richmond is offered with the condition that students wishing to join our community maintain the academic and social/behavioral standards on which admission is based," the statement said.

Another 2020 Morristown-Beard graduate had her admission to Colgate University revoked Tuesday over a "racist" TikTok video, Morristown Green reported.

Colgate President Brian Casey said in a statement Tuesday that the university learned of "a racist TikTok video that was posted by an incoming first-year student and widely shared on Instagram."

Casey did not name the student. He said the university had also learned of another disturbing video, apparently posted by two current students.

"We immediately started an investigation into the TikTok posting and considered both its message and its potential impact," Casey said. "As a result of this review and consistent with both our processes and our principles, the University has revoked our offer of admission to the individual in question."

The Colgate president said the level of ignorance shown in the videos is appalling.

"In a time when we have seen people across the world rightfully outraged by the recent killings of George Floyd and countless other Black men and women and we see nearly every institution in the country looking at the nature and effect of systemic racism, these videos evince a level of cruelty that is staggering," he said.

An Instagram account titled BlackatMBS was recently launched and features stories purportedly submitted by current or former students of color about their experiences.

"This is for any past and present BIPOC (Black, Indigineous, and People of Color) students of Morristown-Beard to anonymously share their experiences," the description of the account states.

Officials from the private school said in a letter Wednesday addressed to the school community that Morristown-Beard School believes Black lives matter and that it was "deeply sorry for the racial injustices and inequities that Black students have endured while being a part of the school community.

"The experiences and concerns reported over the last several days on social media platforms have been extraordinarily painful to read and have exposed racism within" the statement from Caldwell and Fay said, adding that it was "shameful that these incidents have gone unspoken or unheard."

They vowed, among other things, to send a survey to Black students and alumni regarding their experiences and seek recommendations for how to become "an inclusive and anti-racist institution" and to convene a task force next week to work toward that goal.