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RIT, St. John Fisher acknowledge and condemn old yearbook photos

February 20, 2019 09:08 PM

HENRIETTA, N.Y. (WHEC) -- News10NBC has confirmed new information on racist photos in old college yearbooks. We now have two local colleges who acknowledge the photos exist. 

On Tuesday night, RIT released a statement condemning a picture in an RIT yearbook from the late 1970s. 

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And late Wednesday afternoon, St. John Fisher College said it has "disturbing and offensive photos" in some of its old yearbooks. 

News10NBC became aware that a photo existed Tuesday night when the RIT president released his statement.

News10NBC found the photo Wednesday in a comment linked to RIT's Facebook page. On Facebook, RIT confirmed the photo. 

The photo shows nine people dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes, one person in blackface and a noose. 

RIT says the photo was in a yearbook in the late 1970s. 

Wednesday at the Rochester Public Library, News10NBC searched through the RIT yearbooks of the late '70s and did not find the photo.

The library told us it did not have the 1979 yearbook. 

On Wednesday afternoon, News10NBC went outside RIT's campus and showed the picture to students. 

Gagan Hagde is a graduate student from India. 

"When I see that picture that such things are happening at RIT," he said. "But personally, on a day-to-day basis, I don't think we experience any racism at RIT."

Katie Verzillo is in her second year at RIT. 

News10NBC's Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "That's a person in blackface right there and there's a noose right there and approximately seven people dressed up in Klan robes."

Katie Verzillo, RIT: "It's pretty shocking that it was ever allowed no matter the time frame and no matter the time period really."

Brean: "So what do you think when you see that and the fact that it was in an official RIT yearbook?" 

Verzillo: "That's like incredibly inappropriate."

"And I can't imagine what the editor or the administration of RIT at that time were thinking," said Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.

Brean: "What do you think the people were thinking who were dressed up like that?"

Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School: "I wish I knew. I wish I knew what people who use any sort of demeaning imagery, whether it is of African Americans, Native Americans or Jewish Americans or any other group that is easily caricatured. I think it means in part they don't think about those groups like they think about themselves. And in this instance to do it with Klan robes is to, whether you mean to or not, associate yourself with 150 years of terrorism."

RIT President David Munson released the following statement Tuesday: 

"These highly offensive photos, which appeared in an old student publication, should have been completely unacceptable back then. Today we condemn them in the strongest possible terms. They do not represent our institutional values nor reflect our efforts to make RIT a more diverse and inclusive campus. We remain deeply committed to maintaining a safe and supportive environment with policies that promote dignity and respect for all individuals."

St. John Fisher gave News10NBC this statement: 

"Early this afternoon, St. John Fisher College learned of deeply disturbing and offensive photos from past College yearbooks.These photos do not reflect who we strive to be and have no place in an institution of higher education.Given other recent incidents that have involved members of our campus community, we have redoubled our efforts around issues of race, diversity, inclusion, and equity.  As upsetting as these photos are, we will use their existence to further the useful and productive dialogue now taking place within our community.Since our founding, St. John Fisher College has always aspired to represent the virtues espoused in the Basilian motto—goodness, discipline, and knowledge—in our beliefs and actions.  I want to assure our campus community and the community at large that we remain committed to representing those virtues and that respect, open-mindedness, and integrity are of the utmost importance to the College."

Credits

Berkeley Brean

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