Controversial Photo Sparks Discussion

by The Cowl Editor on November 2, 2017


Photo courtesy of

By Gabriella Pisano ’18

Assistant News Editor

Late at night on Wednesday, October 25, a photo was sent around and posted on the “story” of a Providence College student’s Snapchat. The photo was of a male Providence College student, dressed in baggy clothing, a backwards baseball hat, fake dreadlocks, with gold chains around his neck, sunglasses on his face, and a grill in his mouth. The photo included a caption containing a racial slur.

Following the photo being posted, many students reacted by sharing the photo on social media platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter, along with comments expressing their disapproval of the racism portrayed in the photo. Many of the posts included the hashtag, “#PCbreakthesilence,” calling for people to speak out when injustice is observed. The photo soon went viral.

As the photo continued to spread, the College released its first official statement on Thursday afternoon in an email to the campus community from Kristine Goodwin, vice president of student affairs, and Father Kenneth Sicard, O.P., executive vice president. The email explained that the “inappropriate, offensive photo and caption including a racist slur” was reported to Residence Life and Public Safety and was under investigation.

Later on Thursday, students were invited to attend a meeting at 8:30 p.m. in ’64 Hall, in which the student in the photo would engage in conversation and share his side of the story with those in attendance.​Information about the forum was not communicated in any official way, but instead through word of mouth and group messages. While the forum had over 300 members of the PC community in attendance, some students expressed regret that they were unable to attend that it was not more highly publicized.


Students attending the event grabbed a seat from stacks of chairs, sat anywhere in ’64 Hall, and listened to the conversation about the incident. Steven Sears, dean of students, welcomed everyone and asked that everyone be present and remain respectful. Sears explained that it was the student’s desire to address the PC community in person.

The subject of the photo was then given the microphone. He stated that he had dressed up as rapper Lil Wayne. He explained that he had not realized how the costume could be perceived as an offensive act of cultural appropriation. He apologized for any offense he caused, explaining that that was not his intent. Addressing the caption that was included on the photo, he said that he had no knowledge that the caption was added to the photo until hours later. He went on to clarify that the caption, which appeared in quotes, was in fact not a phrase that was said.

Whispers broke out, and students questioned who wrote the caption and why they were not present. Dean Sears addressed this issue stating that the individual was identified and it was up to them to come forward and address the community. The individual responsible for the racial slur will be adjudicated through the Office of Community Standards.

The meeting then turned into an open forum, in which students were given the opportunity to express their feelings. Many students expressed their anger and hurt over the photo, yet each person who spoke thanked the subject of the photo for talking about the incident.

One student observed that while anger turned towards the individual responsible for writing the caption, the incident says something about the PC community. This student expressed frustration with administration’s slow integration of the demands that were made two years ago, including orientation programs addressing issues of diversity and inclusion.

The conversation, which was student-led, morphed into a platform in which students were sharing thoughts about racial bias on campus. The atmosphere remained respectful and receptive. While there was some disagreement seen through shaking heads and questioning glances, students remained receptive to the opinions of others.

Many students expressed that while the incident was unfortunate, it serves as a learning experience. One student commented on the high attendance of the forum, stating that a positive outcome of the incident is that a diverse group of students attended the event.

The following day, Father Brian Shanley, O.P., president of PC, wrote an email to the campus community explaining the events that occurred the previous night. He also mentioned that he met with a small group of student leaders “to seek their input as to how we best learn from this incident and move forward.” As a result of the meeting, the idea of a campus-wide teach-in was settled upon. Fr. Shanley said that this will take some time to put together, and students will be updated as things move forward.