Macalester College officials are investigating after students held a "politically incorrect" themed party in which one student apparently dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member while another wore blackface with a noose around his neck.
Students told administrators about the Jan. 16 party, and a campus-wide discussion was planned for Tuesday.
"My initial reaction was shock," said Paul Maitland-McKinley, a member of the Black Liberation Affairs Committee, a student group. "I thought, this can't really happen on my campus."
He said a friend told him the party was built around the "politically incorrect" theme.
However, in a story about the party in the student newspaper, the Mac Weekly, a student who attended the party said it was meant to be a satiric comment on "things that would be considered taboo in most situations" at the liberal college.
Macalester is the latest in a string of colleges to investigate student parties and incidents that have involved racial overtones.
Earlier this school year, Trinity College and Whitman College had parties where students showed up in racially offensive costumes or blackface. At Texas A&M University, students made a racist video that apparently was intended as satire, and a fraternity at Johns Hopkins University was suspended after a "Halloween in the Hood" party displayed a fake skeleton hanging from a noose.
Macalester officials were checking to see exactly what happened at the party.
"We hope to take the teachable moment and engage our campus community a little bit more deeply," said Jim Hoppe, the school's associate dean of students. "We hope we can start a deeper dialogue on ... why these types of activities hurt people and why they get the kind of response they do."
President Brian Rosenberg sent a statement to students and faculty and staff members condemning the offensive costumes and party theme.
"Several of the attendees allegedly wore costumes depicting negative stereotypes of race, religion and gender," he wrote. "It is important to understand that the college condemns and will not tolerate activities of this type. It is deeply disappointing that Macalester students would be so insensitive and demonstrate such a lack of understanding of the college's values and mission."