Students concerned with blackout
Students worried wearing black at games could result in racially insensitive behavior
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 28, 2012 02:09
For two home football games this year, Oregon State University is encouraging game attendees to wear black to the game.
However, the Associated Students of Oregon State University and many other student leaders are worried about the unintended consequences of encouraging students to wear black to home games versus Utah and UC Berkeley, and have asked the university to not follow through with the campaign to encourage people to wear black.
While many universities encourage game attendees to wear the same color shirt, to give the stadium a unified feel and to build team spirit, when students have been encouraged to wear black in the past at Oregon State University, there have been inadvertent effects resulting in some students feeling threatened and offended.
In 2007, there was a Facebook group and a campaign to encourage students to wear black to the Arizona game. According to an Oct. 5, 2007 Daily Barometer article, the group had 2,600 members and a Barometer writer encouraged students to wear black. Unfortunately, the article also included a photo illustration that portrayed a man with his face and hands painted black, wearing a black shirt, black leggings and also wearing an Afro wig.
“Paint your face black, it scares Wildcats,” the diagram said next to the picture of a man in blackface.
The incident, commonly referred to as “Black Out Reser,” caused a stir on campus, as many students were offended at the suggestion of encouraging students to wear blackface and an Afro wig. Many students ended up attending the game dressed like that, which further upset many student populations.
Since then, further attempts to encourage students to wear black to football games have been met with opposition. Many student leaders continue to worry that because of a lack of education, that students may do racially insensitive things — like wearing blackface — at the game, which would be upsetting to many people in the Oregon State community.
“I’m not sure the university community is ready for it,” said Amelia Harris, president of ASOSU. “Black Out Reser was the result of a lack of education and cultural sensitivity.”
In an email to Steve Clark, the vice president of university marketing and relations, Harris said ASOSU would actively oppose the campaign unless university marketing “highlights the injustices that occurred several years ago during Black Out Reser through educational forums, posters and PSAs to prepare for this new campaign, as well explicitly highlighting what not to wear during the games.”
However, Clark has said that he believes peer-to-peer training that highlights role models on what to wear to the game is the best route.
“We should use role models and educate on how to be good fans, not how to be bad fans. We should encourage and inform [students about] appropriate fan behavior,” Clark said.
Harris doesn’t think that peer-to-peer education will work.
“Peer-to-peer education is good when there isn’t a power differential between groups,” Harris said.
Many students are also worried about what could happen if a blackout happens at Reser Stadium, fearing that students may wear blackface or other racially insensitive items.
“It’s an unfortunate situation. Students don’t realize what they are doing is hurtful to other students,” said Yohanna Abraham, internal coordinator for the Black Cultural Center.
Abraham said she thinks more education is needed before the university encourages students to wear black.
“I’m frankly surprised they’re doing this again. It’s upsetting to many populations,” said Erin Cahill, internal coordinator for SOL, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender multicultural support network.
Wearing blackface was common during minstrel and vaudeville shows from about the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. White performers would paint their faces black and mimic what they felt were African-American stereotypes. The shows — which were incredibly popular at the time, especially in northern cities — perpetuated many racial stereotypes and are highly offensive.
While Oregon State will take the field against Utah on Oct. 20 for its homecoming game, it remains to be seen what will be worn to the game and whether there will be an education campaign before the game.
“We’re continuing the conversation with university marketing,” Harris said. “Hopefully we can create an amazing campaign for the student community.”
Don Iler, editor-in-chief
On Twitter: @doniler