UND blackface Snapchat protected by First Amendement

Will the same hold true in the Edina High School case?


Fair Use Image: University of North Dakota

On the “Discover UND” page of their website, the university includes gender but not racial breakdown of their student population.

Blackface is not a spa treatment.

Yet on Oct. 6, a case involving four white students at the University of North Dakota-dressed up in blackface for a snap story-came to a ruling. The students had towels on their heads, appearing to be having a spa day. The caption of the snapchat story read, “Black Lives Matter” under the photo. The case was ruled within the boundaries of the students’ freedom of expression. UND pardoned the students and no further punishment was placed on them.

President of UND Mark Kennedy issued a statement in response to the ruling: “The challenge we all face is to find the balance between wanting to eliminate expressions of racism and bigotry and supporting the free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment,” he said.

UND’s demographics consist of 80% white students, 2.5% black students, 1.5% Asian, 1.6 percent Native American, with the rest unspecified.  Freedom of speech and expression is a protected right under the constitution of the United States; however using it as a cushion for harmful prejudice actions brings a whole new dimension to the amendment.

“[The UND students] imply offensive things but they don’t outwardly say them, and they’re not condoning violence or threatening people so I think that legally it is within their rights to say them, but whether that’s the right thing to say or not is a different story,” junior Eli Striker said.

UND is a school that few St. Paul Academy and Summit School students choose to attend. But does the ruling in this case influence students’ interest in looking at it as an option?

“If it were my dream college, I don’t think it would affect it due to the small number of the student body it is [involved with the Snapchat incident], and the lack of power that a public university has to enforce things even if they wanted to,” junior Ned Laird-Raylor said.

The Upper School prides itself on nurturing students’ freedom of expression, while also prioritizing a culture that welcomes student opinion. This is represented through the establishment of a Disciplinary Committee, student run opinion board, as well as many other student groups. The demographic is mostly white students. UND’s ruling is the first of it’s kind around students’ freedom of expression in the media.

On Nov. 4, another Snapchat incident, this one from Edina High School, raises the question of whether or not racist speech will be considered free speech when minors are involved. It shows a student’s face with a white robe and hood drawn around it, the letters “K.K.K.” scrawled across the hood and a racial epithet written on the snap, according to The Star Tribune.

“Making jokes about race is a serious matter, [it] makes it unsafe for minority students because they are [at] the core of the joke,” sophmore Mia Litman said.

Edina HS has a similar demographic to UND: 79% white students, 9% Asian, 7% black, and 4% Hispanic according to the Minnesota Report card.  The case is under investigation.