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Blackface photo on Web riles Black Caucus at Penn State

Friday, December 05, 2003

By Dan Lewerenz, The Associated Press

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Penn State Black Caucus demanded that the chairman of the university's College Republicans resign after finding on his personal Web site a photo of a white man in blackface and another with a Ku Klux Klan reference.

Black Caucus President Tiffanie Lewis yesterday said the pictures were inappropriate for the leader of a student organization and urged the resignation of Brian Battaglia, chair of the College Republicans, and anyone else involved in posting the pictures.

"It's not an isolated incident. We believe that it's part of the contentious racial climate at Penn State," Lewis said.

The pictures on Battaglia's Web site were among dozens of pictures from a Halloween party Battaglia hosted at his off-campus home.

One shows a white man in blackface, with the caption: "Apparently Takkeem was released long enough to come to our party. We thank the local police department."

The caption was a reference to Undergraduate Student Government vice president Takkeem Morgan, who paid a fine last month after pleading guilty to a summary charge of criminal mischief regarding a stolen bicycle.

A second photo shows a white man wearing a pillow case as a hood with the caption: "He took a break from cross burning to drink a cold one."

Battaglia, of Brockton, Mass., said he was familiar with the pictures on his Web site, but would not say whether he posted them, nor identify the man in blackface.

He removed the Halloween photos from his Web site yesterday afternoon, shortly after speaking with The Associated Press. But he said last night that he did not remove them because of the Black Caucus' request and that he might post them again.

"The bedrock principals [sic] of the conservative movement generally and the College Republicans in particular, are personal liberty and freedom of expression," Battaglia said in a written statement. "The College Republicans stands ... staunchly opposed to the mindset held by the radical left on college campuses across the country. Their viewpoints, which posit that any action or speech that gives discomfort to a vocal minority should be cause for censorship, persecution, or demands for public apologies, are the greatest threat to liberty in our time."

In an e-mail to Battaglia, Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon called the photos "an embarrassment to the entire university" and said Battaglia and other College Republicans should apologize.

Morgan, a former Black Caucus officer, said he first saw the photos Wednesday night after being told about them by a Black Caucus member.

"My initial reaction was that it was very, very disrespectful," Morgan said. "They were playing with a history that was a very, very tragic one, and it's something that people every day try to get past."

During the spring of 2001, several Black Caucus members were arrested for disrupting Penn State's spring football scrimmage to protest what they felt was a lack of attention paid to death threats mailed and e-mailed to Black Caucus leaders. When university officials scheduled a march to show racial unity, the Black Caucus stole the show, stopping the march and starting a 10-day protest in the student union.

Since then, black students have said the racial climate has improved, but that there still are racial problems at Penn State.

"I think that anybody that's been at Penn State for the last three years knows what the racial situation is here, and they know that it's tense and that every now and then it gets out of hand," Morgan said.

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