Hundreds attended a campus-wide walkout at the College of Charleston on Friday to protest a video showing students from the public school joking about slavery.
Student protesters, many holding signs that read "slavery will never be funny" and "enough is enough," left classes and converged on the school's Cistern Yard. They demanded the administration reprimand the students in the video and implement policies that would discourage students from practicing racist behavior.
"A public apology is not enough," said junior Zaylee Butler, a lead organizer of the walkout. "I want to see some type of tangible consequences. Not expulsion, but something they can learn from."
The video that sparked the controversy, posted Thursday on Twitter after students expressed frustration that the administration was slow to respond, showed white male students of the college riding in a pickup truck through a wooded area. A caption on the video identifies the location as the Francis Marion National Forest.
"Yessir, we out here in the country about to go visit my slave farm," one voice says.
"Leroy, I told you to get back to the plantation house," someone says later.
Spokesman Mike Robertson said when the administration learned of the video Tuesday, it immediately launched an investigation. He said the students in the video are currently participating in a code of conduct hearing.
He said the students were participating in the First Year Experience program designed to integrate new students into the cultural community of the college.
Students were on their way to a site in the forest as part of a course titled Natural History of the Low Country, which introduces students to the "natural history of the diverse ecosystems found within coastal SC through in-class instruction and field trips," the course description says.
Robertson said no faculty or staff were present at the time the comments were made.
College of Charleston Interim President Stephen C. Osborne sent an email to students Thursday afternoon calling the video "deeply offensive" and said it "featured racist statements that made light of our country’s historical wrongs regarding slavery."
"These disturbing comments run completely counter to our core values of integrity, respect for the individual student, diversity and community," Osborne said.
Standing on an elevated cistern, students at Friday's walkout challenged others to denounce racist rhetoric whenever it's spoken. They asked members of minority communities — black, LGBTQ, Latino — to stand in solidarity against discrimination.
Chants such as "reprimand racist acts, don't keep them under wraps" and "no justice, no peace" resounded throughout the yard.
Some students read poems that highlighted African heritage. Others spoke of the role slave labor played in building the city of Charleston.
Butler said a list of "impacted students" containing 150 signatures who agreed the recent incident "impacted us as a community on campus" was sent to the school's dean of students.
Faculty members, like Dr. Anthony Greene, also attended the event in support of the students. Greene, who teaches African-American studies, canceled class and encouraged students to attend the protest.
Greene noted other controversial incidents involving the college that occurred within the past 18 months. In 2017, the college launched an investigation after an online photo appeared to show a college student wearing an orange jumpsuit labeled with the name Freddie Gray, a black man who died after suffering injuries while in Baltimore police custody.
"It's frustrating. It's exhausting. It's tiring," Greene said.
The controversial video surfaces as the college makes a push to diversify its student body. Osbourne acknowledged that the video could hinder those efforts.
"We have been working hard to advance diversity and inclusion on campus, and that’s why incidents like this are so disappointing," he said. "We will not let this incident deter us from making more strides on our campus. Our shared work toward being a safe, more inclusive and diverse community continues."