University Apologizes for Ads Showing Black Student Wearing Crime-Scene Tape

The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee issued an apology for an advertisement promoting a criminal justice course that depicted a Black student wearing police tape as a scarf around their neck.

The advertisement brought criticism from students, staff members and alumni, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The ad was criticized for featuring a Black woman with crime tape around her neck, according to WTMJ-TV.

“As an alum of @UWM, I’m extremely disappointed. Wrapping police tape around a black girl's neck to promote a criminal justice class is very culturally insensitive and irresponsible! Who approved this image? What was the point in this vision?,” an alumnus from the university tweeted on August 26.

“It just seems sometimes there’s not someone in the room saying, ‘Hey, we should think about this for just an extra second,” student Nate Rosek said.

In a statement to WTMJ-TV, the university wrote that the ad is a part of a series for the university’s Helen Bader School of Social Welfare “to encourage students to enroll in the school’s introductory criminal justice class.” A diverse group of students from different races and ethnicities were also included in the series and the “police tape was used as a prop in an effort to add interest to the photos.”

“The students the school worked with on the ad agreed with the approach, and it was never anyone’s intent to offend or diminish the impact of violence in our community,” the statement to the news station read. “We recognize now that the approach was inappropriate, and we sincerely apologize. We are removing the ads from circulation and will not use them again.”

Michelle Jonson, a spokesperson from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, told the publication the ads were created in 2013 and have not changed, except when they are updated to include current students to the campaign.

"One of the takeaways was this was messaging developed several years ago, so it's time to update it," Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In May, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh launched an investigation after a student posted photos of racist and homophobic messages on social media. The messages were originally posted in one of the university’s off-campus student housing units and then circulated on social media. In the photos, the messages were written on a whiteboard read: “No… Liberals, Jews, Muslims, Queers, or Hmongs.” The second photo shows what appears to be people playing a drinking game with red solo cups and a white swastika in the background.

The photos were posted by Allison Keegstra on Twitter. She wanted to expose the people involved. University Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said in a statement that those who bring hate onto the campus should leave.

“To anyone who brings hate into the @uwoshkosh community, I invite you to leave. We are aware of social media images that emerged overnight depicting racist messages and hateful symbols involving our students. We are investigating and take this seriously” Leavitt previously tweeted.

“I am angry, and I am sorry for the pain these images cause,” Leavitt said in the statement. “They are examples of hate and bias that defy everything we stand for as a university and inclusive community. We do not and will not tolerate it.”

During a community forum following the incident, Leavitt said the university discovered the photos when students kept tagging the university’s Twitter accounts to the offensive images, the Oshkosh Northwestern previously reported. Leavitt said an investigation is underway and said one student from the university has been identified in the photos.

“There’s an investigation underway, both by our Dean of Students Office and our University Police Department to see if there was any kind of criminality or policy infraction, based on what happened,” Leavitt said, according to the publication.

Elashia Rosado Cartagena, a sophomore at the university, previously told The North Star that a month prior to the incident, the university held another forum about the same student identified in the photos. The sophomore said he was dropped from clubs on campuses, but she noted that appearing at another forum about the same student caused those affected by his actions to feel overlooked.

“Coming back to the forum and hearing the same people expressing their same pain and hearing the same general answers [was] frustrating,” Rosado Cartagena said.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.