An Instagram post from Oct. 20 was circulated by students and other members of the University community last week due to its allegedly racist overtones. After being reposted by a student who was offended by the photo, the image reached over 1,000 social media hits in less than one day.
The photo featured a Monmouth junior, Dennie Augustine, holding up a cardboard sign that said, “Need $ for child support #BlackTrash.”
“I was visiting home in October and my friend’s friend had a party, and we all know the crazy themes, college students have for parties, so the theme for this party was ‘White Trash vs. High Class,’ People made signs saying stuff like, ‘Lost the keys to my trailer #whitetrash’ I thought what I should write on my sign, so I wrote something truthful,” said Augustine.
Augustine said her dad left her when she was 7 years old, so, according to her, her sign said something personal. “[Her father] has not paid a dime of child support, so I wrote that. I also am African American, so I put ‘#blacktrash’ because I wasn’t comfortable writing ‘white trash’ since I am not Caucasian.”
The post led former President Paul R. Brown, Ph.D to send a campus wide email Thursday morning. The email stated, “We have received numerous reports of a social media post shared by a student that contains offensive and racially charged language. Monmouth has a strong commitment to diversity, and there is no place in our community for speech or actions that disparage others. We are reviewing the matter under the Student Code of Conduct and will take action as appropriate.”
Vice President for Student Life and Leadership Engagement, Mary Anne Nagy, explained what happens in cases like this. “We take a look at all the information that is available to us. Whether it’s something happening on social media or if something else occurs, and if this warrants the filing of a charge under the Student Code of Conduct.”
Natorye Miller, a senior communication student, said, “I just think the post was foolish. I was also offended by it personally. I disagree with the entirety of the party, no one should be calling any race ‘trash’ for any reason at all.”
Augustine also explained that this post was not intended to be racially offensive, and that she herself is part African American. “I understand I may not look black, but I am, and because I don’t look black this post was deemed to be racist,” she said.
Akintunde Obafemi, a senior health studies student, was shocked when he saw the post on his phone. “At first, I didn’t know what ethnicity she was…Then I found out she was black, and honestly this made things worse. It is a thing of having pride in your own culture and your own ethnicity.”
Zoriah Fowler, a sophomore social work student who reposted the image on twitter said she felt disrespected by the image, “I need for her to honestly understand that what she did was wrong and it will never be okay.” She continued, “being black doesn’t make it okay to degrade your own people… and that goes for any race for that matter.”
The photo got quick traction on Twitter and people from other high schools and universities began to post their own reactions to it.
Vice President Nagy does not believe that this post should affect anyone’s decision about coming to Monmouth. “I don’t believe one post is indicative of this not being a good place. Many people have said [after the post circulated], ‘This is not the Monmouth I know,’” she said.
Augustine has received backlash since the picture circulated online. “The following day I was terrified to walk on campus because of how angry some students were. I genuinely felt scared. I left school immediately and stayed home until Monday,” she said.
Because of the Instagram post reaching so many people online, Augustine said that she received several death threats and harassing comments to leave the University.
According to Augustine, some of the comments that she received included, “Multiple students and other people constantly tagging me in posts that were negative about me. Also getting messages on Instagram harassing me about the post, constantly asking me questions and speaking hateful towards me. Some of the messages I received were ‘Ur in my prayers,’ ‘Go Die,’ ‘What’s your address, I’ll happily beat you,’ ‘Get this girl out of Monmouth,’ ‘This Caucasian broad is bold.’ Most of the messages had cursing.”
Because of the harassment Augustine has faced due to the post, she believes the email sent by President Brown should have addressed harassment. “The [former] president sent out an email basically saying I am in the wrong, saying it was a racially charged post and I will be dealt with, but failed to announce that harassment will not be tolerated since that is rule number 4 of the Student Code of Conduct here at school,” she feels.
Vice President Nagy explained that two wrongs do not make a right. She said, “The initial post was what it was, which is offensive. And I appreciate people responding to that but we have to be careful with our response and tone. And if that becomes offensive, that becomes a problem as well.”
Augustine has also had to deal with this affecting her social life. “People have contacted the Nationals of my sorority [Phi Sigma Sigma] and are doing whatever they can to basically ruin my life,” she claimed.
A Virginia Tech student, who emailed Michelle Ardern, the Executive Director of Phi Sigma Sigma, wrote, “I know that as citizens of the U.S., we are all entitled to our freedom of speech, but after reading through your organization’s national page, it is clear to see that this young woman does not exhibit the core values of lifelong learning, inclusiveness, and leadership through service, which your organization has upheld for over 100+ years.”
Arden responded to the email by saying, “We take incidents like this very seriously and we will address this with the chapter.”
Augustine clarified that the party did not take place on campus, or at a sorority party. “It happened back home in New York. It has nothing to do with me being a Monmouth University student or a sorority woman. This entire experience has been overwhelming and scary.”
Mary Harris, a specialist professor of communication, explained how important it is to be careful about what you post. “Social media is just another form of modern-day public communication – the operative term being public. This means that anything shared on social media (whether an account is private or not) is something that an individual should be willing to share in front of a crowd of people face-to-face.”
Augustine, in conclusion, would like to apologize to anyone offended by the post. “I genuinely am apologetic to those who thought of me to be racist, and to those who were offended by the post, because I am not one to purposely say mean and hurtful things about anyone,” she said.
She continues, “I’m upset because my intentions were nothing but me posting the picture because I thought I looked cute, and the impact of the post came four months later…I was not making some form of racial statement. I know people have been saying ‘Well even if you are black you are conforming to the stereotype?’ What was on that sign was my reality.”
Her last words of advice were, “If something someone posts offends you, contact them privately and find out the truth. Assumptions of the person that I am and the ethnicity that I am has led to me not feeling safe at Monmouth and I wouldn’t what has been happening to me on anyone, not my worst enemy, and not even to the students that have been harassing me.”
Augustine also publicly announced her apology on WMCX on Monday morning. For readers who would like to view Augustine’s entire apology, the document is featured on the official The Outlook website: http://outlook.monmouth.edu/.