MARIETTA - Marietta College is investigating a weekend incident in which some students reportedly wore T-shirts with a racial slur written on them on and around campus.
Three male students reportedly were wearing white T-shirts upon which was written the slur "n---" with one letter marked out above an outline that was reportedly supposed to represent the country of Niger. A photo being circulated by students on Facebook clearly shows one individual wearing the shirt and at least one person next to him who appears to be wearing a similar shirt.
The students who reportedly wore the shirts did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Lindsey Bartlett, 22, of Marietta, was working in the Smashburger restaurant in Andrews Hall when two students came in wearing the shirts.
"I was pretty upset about it," said Bartlett, who is not a student at the college. "It didn't make me feel safe. It made me feel kind of uncomfortable in my workplace."
Bartlett said she is of Hispanic descent and thought about how she would have felt if the slur had been directed at someone of her ethnicity.
"There's tons of black students on campus every day, and that's not fair to them," she said.
In a letter posted on the school's website Tuesday evening, college President Jean Scott acknowledges "a weekend incident involving the use of racial epithets" and says the administration has launched an inquiry.
The school "will use the results of that investigation to determine the appropriateness of bringing charges for violation of the Student Code of Conduct against the students involved," she says.
Tom Perry, director of college relations, said he could not comment on a pending investigation and he would be the only person speaking on the issue for the college. He said in general that an investigation could be conducted by multiple officials on campus, including campus police, depending on the nature of the issue.
The incident was the first, but not the only, topic of conversation at Wednesday's Student Speak Out event, in which 11 administrators took questions from students in the college's McDonough Center.
LaTisha Taylor, president of the Charles Sumner Harrison Organization, a campus group that promotes diversity, started off the comments by saying she and others were appalled by what had happened.
"A group of students chose to disregard the feelings and humanity of their fellow students," she said.
Taylor asked students to respond in mature, civil ways and not to stoop to the negative level demonstrated by those wearing the shirts.
Sophomore Christian Sanders, of Cleveland, asked students not to jump to conclusions before knowing all the facts. He also said he was more troubled by people who saw what was happening and how it was making some people feel but didn't speak up.
"I felt like that was the biggest injustice of anything this weekend," he said.
Sanders did not say who was involved in the incident but said he understood the shirts were intended as a joke, although one he found to be in very poor taste.
"You may never know how what you think is funny is damaging (someone else) on the inside," he said.
In her online message, Scott said the college would "expand our dialogue about what it means to be a diverse community and develop initiatives during the remaining weeks of this semester to guide our actions as we move forward."
Asked at the Speak Out when such a dialogue would take place, Scott said plans were in the works and it would happen soon. She added there may be small group meetings before and after the larger session.
And the upcoming activity would not be a one-time occurrence, said Scott, who noted the college had already been developing a diversity and inclusion policy.
"This event does not define Marietta College," she said. "What we do from here does define us."
Some students expressed frustration with the administration, saying they didn't feel enough was being done. Others, including Sanders, said they believed the administration was handling things swiftly and appropriately.
The college's code of conduct includes provisions against harassment based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex or sexual orientation, age or disability.
Under the residence hall section, there are prohibitions against "derogatory racial slurs," noting such a violation could result in dismissal from a residence hall.
"The college will not allow the posting of items that are deemed to be racist, sexist, indecent, scandalous, illegal, inciting, or in any way oppressive in nature. These items may be removed and disciplinary action may be taken," the handbook says.