College takes action against employees over “dress-up” marketing photo

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Three employees from Indiana’s Grace College and Seminary have lost their jobs after a marketing idea was viewed by social media users as a display of “white privilege,” according to a report from Heatstreet, which often spotlights such college-centered madness.

The trouble began on June 2, when the college’s marketing department held a weekly theme day for its employees, dubbed “wrap day,” during which they were encouraged to dress up like rappers.

Five employees posed for a parody rap album cover which showed them dressed up like rappers; for instance, one sported an Afro wig while another showed off his “Thug Life” knuckles and had a teardrop tattoo on his right cheek. Fake tattoos and a backward baseball cap completed the photo, which featured four of the five employees throwing various “gang signs.” The acronym “N.G.A.”, which stands for “Not Grace Appropriate” – commonly used at the church-run college to refer to anything “sinful” – was written in the upper left-hand corner.

As soon as it was posted on Facebook, social media users began calling the group “white privileged,” and wrote things like, “What point are you trying to make? That you’re gangster, thug, or hood?” Many accused them of making fun of black people.

“Right after we saw that criticism we decided to take that post down,” said alumus Evan Kilgore, who was one of the employees fired. Last year, he served as student body president.

“I am feeling overwhelmed and hurt,” he stated, adding, “When we named our fake album, we never were implying that how we looked or what were dressed like was ‘not Grace appropriate.’ We thought it would be a funny parody of the Grace College culture.”

Dr. Bill Katip, the school’s president, released a statement on June 9 to announce that “several of the individuals involved are no longer employees.” He noted that the incident had sparked “a reexamination of the policies and training at Grace related to diversity and inclusion.”

According to Katip, “It is important for the public to know that Grace College is committed deeply to diversity and inclusiveness, and conduct that demonstrates insensitivity to these values will not be tolerated.”

“There was nothing ill-willed about the photo,” Kilgore said, emphasizing that the photo was created in the spirit of parody and not meant to cause harm.

Not everyone who appeared in the parody picture was fired, he noted. “It’s hard to understand why two were kept and three were let go. I guess I don’t really understand the justification for that. If we were all in the photo [why] wasn’t everyone let go for participating in this racially insensitive act?”

Since the firings, one alumnus started a change.org petition supporting the three, which has more than 250 signatures so far.

“A few people felt it was supporting anti-black behavior, even though this was not the intention. The photo was only meant to be a funny post for social media, which was part of their Friday routine. While many agree that this picture was not appropriate for representing Grace College, we find that firing these individuals was NOT the correct measure to take,” wrote the petitioner.

“They could have been written up, received training, formed an apology to the public, etc. Because of this, Grace College is letting go of many talented workers that LOVED working there, including the Marketing Director.”

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