An all-girls Catholic School in Richmond, Virginia, was scrambling this week to address the fallout from a Snapchat post apparently depicting a white student in her plaid green school uniform wearing a blackface mask, captioned with the n-word.
The photo was reportedly first posted on Thursday, and Sister Cecilia Dwyer, the head administrator at Saint Gertrude High School, sent an email to parents and students notifying the community of “deeply troubling and racially insensitive imagery” involving “current students” and to announce the school was “looking into this matter” to determine who was involved.
A screenshot of the image had been shared more than 1,000 times on Twitter by Tuesday, after being posted by a woman who said she was a former student and claimed that the nearly 100-year-old school “didn’t do anything when I was a student and I had threatening and outright racist mail sent to my house.”
“Learn from your mistakes and punish this girl properly,” wrote the poster, whose full name was not clear and who was not immediately available for comment.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Saint Gertrude officials said the current administrators were “not in place prior to this past year,” but that they “have been assured that any previous instances were handled appropriately according to our policies, code of conduct, and values.”
Dwyer wrote in her email that the “offensive and inappropriate content” of last week’s post was a “clear violation not only of our school policies, but also the principles and values on which our school was founded.”
“At Saint Gertrude, it is our expectation that all members of the community embody the values and high moral character set forth by our Benedictine Order and our Catholic faith, including treating each member of our community with dignity and respect,” she added.
NBC 12 reported that two students believed to be involved in the post were not in school on Monday.
J.J. Minor, of the Richmond NAACP, told the outlet he received more than 30 calls about the incident, many from parents.
“Blackface has an evil history of mocking African-Americans,” Minor said. “Whether they’re children or not, they did it plain and simple. Someone taught them how to do it and folks know what blackface means and it is offensive.”
Officials at the school insisted they were aware of the stakes.
“We cannot stress enough how seriously we are taking this matter,” the school said in a statement to The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “While nothing has been resolved at this time, we want to emphasize once again that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and that we are working on ways to better educate our community assuring it can be one devoid of hate or discrimination. We hope that all of our community members are supportive of our school and administration as we move forward.”
The statement added that administrators were “holding individual, small group, class, and school-wide discussions” about the incident and “actively working to organize diversity training for our faculty and workshops for students.”
After the photo began spreading on social media, school officials told The Daily Beast that local officers were on campus to offer extra protection over a “threat of violence” to a student, which was posted on social media.
Administrators said the threat was “geared toward one particular student and revolves around physical assault” and that “increased security will remain in place for the remainder of the week, including at on-campus events.”
Schools all over the country—including in Minnesota and Kentucky—have made headlines in recent years over students posting blackface images on social media or wearing racist makeup to athletic competitions.
Beyond school gates, in February, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apologized for wearing blackface in a yearbook photo next to someone donning a white hood and robes, telling reporters he regretted “the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.” (He subsequently walked back that admission, and investigators in the state never reached a firm conclusion about whether he was the person depicted, according to The New York Times.)
And in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was engulfed in scandal in September when at least three images of the progressive leader wearing racist makeup were found in the weeks before the nation’s general election. At the time, Trudeau said he could not definitively say that more images would not surface, nor could he say how many times he’d worn blackface in his life.