Controversial IU billboard prompts anger, possible campus changes

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Strong reaction to a controversial billboard in an Indiana University dorm could lead to possible changes on the Bloomington campus.

School administrators ordered it taken down Monday night because it contained a racially-charged message.

Inside the Harper dormitory, posted messages in the lobby are meant to spark discussion on difficult issues. But the latest billboard at Foster Quad, asking "Can Santa Claus be a black man?" triggered instant controversy.

"I was completely appalled with it," said IU freshman Alexus Johnson.

"It really hit home for a lot of students and it really hurt a lot of students," added IU senior Leighton Johnson. "They're just angry about this poster being up."

Monday evening, after they saw the poster, many of those students took to Twitter and Instagram, spreading pictures and posts about the billboard. IU officials took notice and started tweeting too, saying they were investigating the issue.

Students say the problem wasn't so much about the question "Can Santa be a black man?," but the follow-up questions shown on stockings below, including, "Would he only visit the ghetto?," "Would you let him come down your chimney?" and "Wouldn't all the presents be stolen?"

Students say that reinforces negative, hurtful stereotypes.

"They're shocked because it was expressed so openly and in such an insulting fashion," said IU senior Fred Diego.

Within two hours of all the posts on social media, the university had the billboard taken down. They also issued a statement saying the intent of fostering a discussion on race was good, but the execution was misguided.

"Stereotypes need to be brought up in discussion because they do exist, but they need to be done in a tasteful manner," said IU freshman Destani McGruder.

Now, changes could be on the way across campus.

A member of the CommUNITY Education Program, which promotes diversity, originally put up the billboard. IU says its team members will meet to discuss what happened and see what lessons can be learned.

Students are also invited to a discussion about the billboard Wednesday night at 10:00 p.m. in the Harper dorm.

"These are issues that do need to be addressed and it's a conversation that needs to be had," Diego said. "It needs to be an ongoing conversation that takes into account some critical race theory."

Students say the controversy already has people talking. Now they hope to have that conversation in a more appropriate way.