UW-Madison has revoked season tickets held by two groups of fans who officials say were involved in a costume that depicted a noose around the neck of President Barack Obama during a UW football game last month, Chancellor Rebecca Blank said Monday.
Blank also apologized for how the university handled the controversy that erupted when photos of the costume spread widely online, which prompted criticism from students, faculty and others who saw her initial statements about the costume as a weak response to a highly offensive display.
“I am personally very sorry for the hurt that this incident and our response to it has caused,” Blank said during a meeting of the UW-Madison Faculty Senate. “We have learned from this incident, and we will do better the next time.”
Later Monday several UW athletes tweeted a message calling on UW to do more to address “how students of color are treated” at the university.
Blank and UW officials stopped short of saying the season ticket holders were the two people who dressed in the costume at the Oct. 29 game against Nebraska.
“We have not definitively identified the individuals wearing the costumes at the game, but we believe the season ticket holders are related to this situation,” UW spokesman John Lucas said.
The university revoked four total season tickets from two groups of fans who officials say were connected to the costume.
Blank told faculty members that the tickets were revoked because the people using them violated stadium policies by bringing a prohibited item into the stands and not following directions from Camp Randall staff during the game.
The decision reverses UW’s initial response to the costume, which was to let the fans to stay in the stadium after the costume was reported to stadium staff.
The unidentified fans’ costume involved one wearing masks of Obama and Hillary Clinton, dressed in a prison jumpsuit with a rope tied into a noose around his neck. The other fan wore a mask of Donald Trump and held the other end of the rope.
University officials said stadium staff members asked the men to remove the noose from their costume during the game’s first half, and did not remove the fans from the stadium because their costume was otherwise protected under the First Amendment.
State Journal photos taken during the third quarter show that the fans later put the noose back on as they walked around the stadium.
Many people on and off campus noted that the display invoked the history of lynching with its depiction of Obama in criticizing both the costume and the statements university officials released about it the night of the game and the next day.
“The university (claims) to support diversity and inclusivity, yet you chose not to uphold these values at a time of need,” Carmen Gosey, chairwoman of the Associated Students of Madison student government, wrote Friday in a letter to Blank.
Speaking at Monday’s Faculty Senate meeting, dance professor Chris Walker told Blank that he appreciated her apology for UW’s handling of the controversy. Walker said the university’s earlier response undermined efforts to create a more welcoming climate on campus for people of color.
But dozens of athletes across many of the university’s sports teams, including star basketball player Nigel Hayes, tweeted a message saying “As a student, I demand change from UW-Madison.”
The noose incident “was yet another blow and reminder that there are people in this community that may not value diverse populations,” the statement said. “When we travel and play in other stadiums, fans have told us to get out of their country, or to go back to Africa, but it hurts to receive that treatment at home.”
“We love the UW and are proud to be STUDENT-athletes here, and truthfully, our positive experiences far outweigh the negatives, but no student should have to live through this negative climate.”
The university retweeted Hayes’ message with a comment: “We’re listening to our students and our student-athletes. Thanks for your honesty and commitment to Wisconsin.”
Blank and Athletic Director Barry Alvarez have said UW officials will review stadium policies with the goal of ensuring that symbols such as the noose are not displayed at Camp Randall again.
Those new policies will be announced this week, Blank told the faculty, ahead of Saturday’s game against Illinois.