Monday night, Indiana University officials took down a residence hall bulletin board that read, “Can Santa Claus be a black man?”
The large bulletin board, with depictions of a black Santa Claus and stockings, hung near the entrance of Foster Quad, an undergraduate residence hall.
IU Spokesperson Mark Land says staff and students from IU’s CommUNITY Education Program hoped the board would provoke discussion about racial stereotyping. He says while good intentions fostered the project’s creation, its execution missed the mark.
“If you didn’t know any of the context—you just saw the bulletin board—it looked like someone had created a poster that had very negative stereotypes about African Americans,” he says.
Other questions on the bulletin bord included, “If Santa Claus is a black man, wouldn’t he only visit the ghetto?” and “Did you ever play with a black Barbie doll?” with white space left for students to comment.
After several students approached staff members about the board, IU officials removed it.
A series of Tweets from the school’s Twitter account Monday explained:
This incident has generated a lot of discussion on important issues. Thank you to everyone who shared their concerns with us. (3/3)— Indiana University (@IUBloomington) December 3, 2013
The sign is being removed. The intention was to educate, not offend, but we recognize the problem and apologize to everyone effected. (2/3)— Indiana University (@IUBloomington) December 3, 2013
Regarding a controversial bulletin board at Foster Quad: There was a misguided effort to generate discussion about racial stereotypes. (1/3)— Indiana University (@IUBloomington) December 3, 2013
Land says the initiative behind the board targets sensitive themes like race and sexual identity, and that the program has been successful at encouraging positive discussion thus far.
The group plans to meet with students and staff later this week to discuss the display. Foster Quad staff declined to comment for this story.