On the evening of Saturday, February 28, about 20 members of the Wheaton College football team performed a racially insensitive skit in a campus gym as part of a team event. During this annual event, members of next season’s team break up into four smaller teams (each led by a team captain), perform skits and play games. The audience generally consists of fellow players and their friends.
One of the teams, led by two African-American students and including other African-American members of the team, decided to perform a skit based on a scene from the action comedy Bad Boys II, which features actors Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. The scene includes a satirical parody of the Ku Klux Klan. Team members performed the skit wearing white hoods and robes and carrying Confederate flags.
President Ryken learned about the incident at 11:40 on Saturday night. At 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, he and members of the Student Development staff met with the team captain who led the group that performed the skit, along with the football coaches, in order to learn what took place, what the students intended, and why two coaches who were in charge of the team in the absence of the head coach did not stop the skit.
The team captain acknowledged his poor judgment in failing to consider the inherently hurtful meanings these symbols carry, though it was clear the skit was not motivated by racial hostility. The coaches accepted responsibility for their failure to provide appropriate guidance. All recognized that, regardless of the group’s intent, the skit was inappropriate, and apologized in an e-mail to the campus community sent out around noon on Sunday. College officials took immediate steps to preserve a copy of footage of the incident. Given the inherently hurtful and shocking nature of any images of the event, and the complexities of their context, College leaders asked that they not be disseminated.
This week, campus leaders have focused their efforts on caring for students, especially students of color, who were hurt or offended by the events. President Ryken and Director of Multicultural Development Rodney Sisco met with African-American and other students Sunday night at a dinner sponsored by an African-American student fellowship to discuss what happened and to express concern. Monday evening, Vice President for Student Development Dr. Paul Chelsen and Head Football Coach Mike Swider met with the football team to begin helping them understand how their decisions impacted others on campus. The incident will receive customary review. Additionally, our community has been called to pray. On Sunday night, more than 700 students met from 9 p.m. to midnight in the College’s historic Pierce Chapel to worship and to pray for campuswide healing for this and other painful and challenging incidents that have taken place on campus in recent days.
As President Ryken affirmed in an e-mail to campus Tuesday night, Wheaton College stands resolutely against racial insensitivity, including the use of symbols that convey hatred against African Americans and other ethnic minorities. The College is committed to responding promptly and appropriately to incidents that may violate our Community Covenant, taking the time to consider the total facts of each situation and seeking redemption, with respect for the dignity of each person.