Occidental College trustee resigns after blackface yearbook photo resurfaces

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- An Occidental College trustee has voluntarily resigned after a picture of her in blackface in her 1984 college yearbook resurfaced. Jennifer Townsend Crosthwaite says she deeply regrets her decision to dress up in such a way.

In 1984, a photo of three Occidental College students in blackface appeared in the yearbook. One of the women pictured, Townsend, is a long-time supporter of the college and, until last month, a member of Occidental's board of trustees. The photo appeared in the yearbook just three years after former President Barack Obama attended the college.

"I'm just shocked that it came out and that it was in the yearbook -- that's more shocking than anything," said student Galen Maclennan.

The Occidental College senior and his classmate, Ryan Lee, say the photo contradicts everything they believe their school stands for.

"Occidental has a culture of being very progressive and socially mindset," Lee said. "This is what Occidental is now, but maybe it's not what it always was."

College administrators told Eyewitness News they learned of the offensive photo just last month; though in 2014, it was posted on a website created for a college class.

In February, Townsend resigned from the board of trustees. In a letter posted on the college website, Townsend apologized.

Part of the statement reads:

"We entered a talent show dressed up as the Jackson 5, and in our minds, we were paying tribute to Michael Jackson and our love for his music. Knowing what I know now, my behavior was insensitive, disrespectful, and wrong."

President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable Earl Ofari Hutchinson weighed in, saying the apology is appreciated but he isn't sure society today, as enlightened as it might be compared to 1984, truly understands the profound offense blackface signifies.

"It's a teaching moment," he said. "The message is, when these things happen, when there's a racist incident, racist stereotype, racist anything, you got to jump on it right away. You can't let time pass because if you let time pass, the subtle message is, it's OK."

Prior to the photo resurfacing, Townsend and her husband, also an Occidental alum, made a donation to the college for the renovation of the campus pool. Since then, they have requested the new pool not be named after them and that their donation be redirected to scholarship money for first-generation students and female athletes.
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