University of Oklahoma President Responds to Another Blackface Investigation

The University of Oklahoma is investigating a blackface incident, just a few months after a student from the university was expelled from a sorority due to another blackface incident in January.

An Instagram post went viral on September 22 after it reportedly showed a freshman wearing a black charcoal facial mask with him gesturing the peace sign above his head, KOCO reported. In the social media post, the caption read: "Another day, another case."

The Black Emergency Response Team (BERT) at the University of Oklahoma posted a statement on Twitter that same day, stating that it was still gathering information about the incident.

“Despite not having all of the information, we are certain that our community is exhausted by such incidents of hate and ignorance,” the group wrote. “So, B.E.R.T will continue to meet with OU administrators in order to cultivate a more inclusive environment for all students of color at our university.”

The student has been identified as Matt Robertiello, the OU Daily reported. He told the college newspaper via Instagram that his photo was not intended to be racist and said he was just wearing a charcoal face mask while he was at home.

“That is me, wearing a charcoal face mask, while I was at home with my girlfriend,” Robertiello told the newspaper. “I did not post the picture with any intention of ‘blackface’ as (they’re) claiming I am. I feel as if I’m being framed as racist and I am not.”

In a statement following the incident, University of Oklahoma interim president Joe Harroz Jr. wrote that although the student cannot be removed from the college because the First Amendment protects their freedom of speech, he called the photo “racist.”

“The impact it has on our community and all who strive for a diverse and inclusive community, is profound — it attacks our core values, it directly degrades African Americans, and it strikes at our very humanity,” Harroz said in a statement.

“No one in our community can claim to be ignorant of the horrible history and meaning of blackface and its damaging effects.

“Upon assuming my role four months ago, I have stated at every opportunity that diversity and inclusion is our institution’s number one priority. We are profoundly clear that OU is a place where racism is not welcome; where love and tolerance define us; and where we strive, and will help society, to be better,” his statement continued.

In January, a sorority at the university expelled a student who went viral on Twitter for a video where she was seen using a racial slur while wearing black paint on her face, CBS News previously reported.

OU Tri Delta Chapter President London Moore wrote in a statement posted to Twitter that the chapter “condemns the racist, offensive and disgraceful conduct of the two women involved in the video” and said the chapter was “deeply disappointed” to find that one of the women was associated with the Theta Gamma chapter of Tri Delta. Moore said the woman has been removed from the organization.

“The behavior documented in the video is abhorrent and is in no way consistent with Tri Delta’s ideals. To those students directly impacted by the senseless act of racism, we are deeply sorry, and we know that is not enough,” Moore added.

Earlier this month, Colorado State University said it would not punish the students who wore blackface in a picture that went viral on Instagram. In the photo obtained by NBC News, it shows four white students from the university in blackface, with two students in the photo with their arms crossed on their chest into an x. The caption of the photo read: “Wakanda forevaa,” a reference to the Marvel movie Black Panther, according to the news station.

Colorado State University President Joyce McConnell, and two other administrators, wrote in a letter that the image “has caused a great deal of pain to members of our community.”

Despite this, the letter read that because of First Amendment rights, and because the photo was posted on a personal social media account, the students will not be punished for their actions.

“We also affirm that personal social media accounts are not under our jurisdiction. Our community members — students, faculty and staff — can generally post whatever they wish to post on their personal online accounts in accordance with their First Amendment rights,” the letter read.

“This recent post runs counter to our principles of community, but it does not violate any CSU rule or regulation, and the First Amendment prohibits the university from taking any punitive action against those in the photo,” the letter continued.


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.