Three employees at a small Christian college in Winona Lake, Indiana, lost their jobs after a work-sponsored photo drew criticism for being racially insensitive.
The photo in question features five white Grace College and Seminary employees posing for a parody rap album cover. The mock photo — which was posted to Facebook — was taken as part of “wrap day,” a themed day for the school’s marketing team that also included lettuce wraps for lunch, the Indianapolis Star reported.
Six days later, three Grace employees were fired.
In the image, one employee is seen wearing an Afro wig, another has “thug life” written across his knuckles along with a fake tear drop. Other employees are wearing bandanas, chains, and backward baseball hats. “N.G.A.” — Not Grace Appropriate — is scrawled across the top left corner of the mock album cover.
The bottom right corner reads: “Homeschool advisory: Gangsta content.”
Evan Kilgore, who appeared in the photo and served as the college’s special projects director before being fired, said the three-letter acronym is jokingly used around campus to refer to behavior deemed “sinful” by the religious school.
“When we named our fake album,” he explained to the Star, “we never were implying that how we looked or what were dressed like was ‘not Grace appropriate.’”
Kilgore, a 2016 graduate of Grace who, criticized his alma mater, saying the firings weren’t “handled in the most graceful manner.” And he told WPTA-TV that he is unsure why only he and two other employees were fired when five people participated in the parody.
When he first saw the backlash from the photo — and the school’s response to it — he felt “overwhelmed and hurt.” He said he and his co-workers were just trying to create “a funny parody of the Grace College culture.”
But not everyone who saw the photo, which has since been removed from social media, felt that way.
“What point are you trying to make? That you’re gangster, thug or hood? … And the only time they [the terms] seem to be okay is when white people use them to make light or fun of the situation,” one commenter wrote.
And Dr. Bill Katip, president of Grace College, seemed to agree.
“Earlier this week, an insensitive and inappropriate photo was posted by a Grace College employee on the employee’s personal Facebook page,” he wrote in a statement. “A Grace College department was referenced in the post and Grace employees were pictured in the photograph posted. This post elicited a significant amount of criticism, concern and hurt from our alumni, students, parents, friends and others.”
The president reiterated that his college is “committed deeply to diversity and inclusiveness” and said behavior that exhibits “insensitivity” will not be tolerated moving forward.
“It is apparent that we can and must do more to help ensure people of all backgrounds are treated with respect and feel welcomed on our campus,” Katip concluded.