Published January 26, 2007
Last week, while the nation paused to remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a group of students at a Texas college outside Fort Worth marked the day by throwing a party that featured black stereotype costumes — including a student dressed as Aunt Jemima — a main course of fried chicken and cases of malt liquor.
The insensitivity didn't end there. The students then brazenly posted their party photos on the popular Web site Facebook.com for all the world to see.
School administrators at Tarleton State University in Stephenville told FOXNews.com they are investigating an off-campus Martin Luther King Jr. Day student party held on Jan. 15 that the school's president called "reprehensible."
"I am personally insulted by these photographs and am disappointed that Tarleton students have demonstrated such insensitivity," university President Dennis P. McCabe wrote in a letter to students and faculty posted on the school's Web site Wednesday.
"I regret that any of our students have been hurt by the display of these photographs. The students involved have removed them and have expressed regret over offending their fellow students."
"I feel like there is no excuse for this type of ignorance," Donald Ray Elder, president of the school's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the Associated Press.
Photographs posted on students' personal Facebook pages showed party attendees donning Afro-style wigs, fake gold jewelry, 40-ounce bottles of alcohol in brown paper bags and mock silver teeth. The photos have now made their way around the Web via TheSmokingGun.com.
In one picture, a student dressed as the character Aunt Jemima holds a bottle of maple syrup in one hand and a bottle in a brown paper bag that appeared to contain malt liquor.
Wanda Mercer, the school's vice president of student life, said an investigation into the party is ongoing.
"We need to find out more about the event, and determine if there were policy violations. Then we'll go from there," Mercer told FOXNews.com.
The university's code of student conduct dictates that students can be punished for their behavior at an off-campus party, depending on the behavior.
Many of the students who attended the party already learned from the incident, Mercer said.
"I think what many of the students involved have been through these last days is huge," she said. "I don't think they’ve learned more in a year than they’ve learned these last few days."
More than 400 students attended a quickly organized forum sponsored by the university Wednesday night that Elder described as "a shaky baby step" in bridging a divide between black and white students on the campus.
The school had about 400 black students out of 7,800 overall last semester, according to the schools Web site.
Marcy Tanter, an associate professor in the English Department and an adviser for the school's NAACP chapter, said the forum was successful.
"There was a little bit of anger, there was a little bit of tension at times, but it was civil," Tanter said. "One of the students who posted the pictures got up and apologized in public."
Tanter maintains that there is generally not a lot of discrimination evident on the Tarleton campus.
"We've had gay students who have been harassed, Hispanic students who have been called names, but it's not all the time, not every day," she said. "Incidents happen, but I wouldn’t say that is the atmosphere of the campus."
Elder told the AP he sensed a racial divide at the forum, with black students sitting on one side of the room and whites on the other.
"It was civil, but it also escalated into a shouting match," he said in a telephone interview afterward.
According to Mercer, there have been no other significant racial incidents since she came to the school several years ago.
"The students involved obviously used very poor judgment," said Mercer. "and I think most of them would tell you that right now."
McCabe, meanwhile, had a final word for the offending students and their classmates.
"Dr. King’s vision for the world was that people be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I challenge students to make character an important priority as they pursue their studies at Tarleton," he said.
FOXNews.com's Hannah Sentenac and the Associated Press contributed to this report.