ASU discourages face painting over racism concerns

Lauren Clark
Arizona Campus Correspondent

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  • A few students painted their faces and bodies black at a “black out” football game earlier in the semester.
  • Members of the ASU Black and African Coalition said the face painting was “cultural insensitivity” and “racism” rather than school spirit.
  • ASU’s administration has released a memo to students in order to discourage them from using face paint at future functions.
  • Arizona State University students have been discouraged by administration to paint their faces at any event over concerns of perceived racism.

    As previously reported by Campus Reform, members of the ASU Black and African Coalition (BAC) became outragedafter some students painted their faces black during a “black out” football game and the pictures made it to online sports news sites.

    "I think the immediate consequences should be not allowing them into the event and then make them attend these events like caucuses or classroom workshops where they are made aware of why it is culturally insensitive to students who are Native American or African American or whatever race it is that they identify with or sex or whatever, because it goes either way."   

    The face paint, which is part of ASU’s “Black Out” tradition where students are encouraged by the athletic department to dress in all black to cheer on the Sun Devils, was seen by BAC president Kyle Denman not as school spirit, but blatant racism.

    “The historical context of blackface is that it is demeaning to the African-American culture,” Denman said. “It doesn’t show school spirit; it represents cultural insensitivity at the end of the day,” he told The State Press, ASU’s student newspaper .

    After these complaints, ASU issued a statement discouraging students from painting their faces in any color at any event.

    “As an inclusive and forward-thinking university, it is important for us to foster an environment in which everyone feels safe and accepted. Therefore, we discourage the use of face paint at any event, whether the theme is black, maroon, gold or white, and ask our fans to show their Sun Devil Pride in other ways,” ASU said.

    The university did not explicitly ban face paint, nor did it say if there would be any disciplinary actions for students who wore any.

    And while the BAC has released a statement supporting the University’s stance, the coalition is currently writing a bill that will permanently ban the face paint.

    The bill, which will be introduced to the ASU Undergraduate Student Government in November, would not only ban the face paint, but would introduce consequences for students who do not comply.

    Denman suggested that sensitivity training for these students would be an option.

    “I think the immediate consequences should be not allowing them into the event and then make them attend these events like caucuses or classroom workshops where they are made aware of why it is culturally insensitive to students who are Native American or African American or whatever race it is that they identify with or sex or whatever, because it goes either way,” Denman told the State Press.

    However, BAC has somewhat softened its calls for a face paint ban. Denman told the Arizona Republic that the group is now calling only for a ban on full face paint, not on partial face paint.

    This isn’t the university's first controversy with race this year. Last January, students attending a Tau Kappa Epsilon “MLK Day Party” involving watermelon cups and basketball clothing created national outrage. Although the fraternity has since been kicked off campus, some students believe the university’s face paint stance is a smart one, given the state’s recent history.

    ASU student Levi Espinoza told Campus Reform that while he agrees that the “vast majority” of students wearing the paint didn’t have racist intent, he thought ASU made the correct decision.

    “I think it's a smart thing to do, and admirable that they're not doing an outright ban on face paint even though they could,” said Espinoza. “Given Arizona's controversy involving MLK Day recognition, our seemingly racist immigration policies, the actions of Sheriff Joe and the recent party that involved ‘dressing African-American’ it's at least cognizant to rethink some things.”

    But ASU student and columnist Taylette Nunez wrote an opinion column arguing this policy was misguided.

    “Unless people specifically write, speak or act in a way that is offensive to a specific race, why should face painting be seen as something negative? This is something that has been done for decades and is seen as a way of supporting a team, not hurting peers,” he wrote.

    “During the Olympics, do people really think about the race they represent when painting their bodies or faces? No, they think about their country colors or the colors of their flag,” Nunez added. “The same applies to the football games at ASU. When students paint their faces for football games, it is tied to a theme of the game, colors of the teams or school pride. Never is it intended to be seen as racist or offensive.”

    ASU did not respond to requests for comment.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @LaurenLouClark



    Lauren Clark

    Lauren Clark

    Arizona Campus Correspondent

    Lauren is a sophomore studying journalism at Arizona State University and is working towards a joint-four year bachelor and masters degree with a minor in political science, and an emphasis on business reporting.

    Lauren wants to change the discussion in journalism by bringing stories to light that focus on government waste and fraud into public discussion.

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