UPDATED: 1:15 p.m. ET
A student at a historically Black university (HBCU) in Georgia has accused one of her professors of trivializing the killing of Trayvon Martin by making an “insensitive” and “humorless” comment, according to a viral tweet.
The professor at Fort Valley State University (FVSU) allegedly made disrespectful comments about a student wearing a hoodie and followed that up with a quip that referenced the unfortunate circumstances under which the unarmed Black teenager was brutally killed in Florida in 2012.
Precious context is missing from the accusation, but so far the student’s tweet has generated more than 150,000 “likes” and more than 18,000 retweets in an indication that her claim was receiving an outsized amount of attention. One prominent Ivy League professor even chimed in on the conversation being had on social media.
A spokesperson for FVSU emailed NewsOne and said “a thorough investigation” has been opened into the matter per university protocol.
“We take our students’ experience very seriously and want to promote the highest level of student success in a positive environment,” the spokesperson added.
NewsOne reached out to the student behind the tweet and the professor seeking comment and clarity for the allegations, but neither had responded as of Wednesday morning.
Here’s what we know so far.
The student, identified as Janei Dortilus, tweeted the startling claim Monday evening that about an alleged interaction between her professor and a male student: “My professor just said ‘Take your hoodie off… you’re not going for skittles and sweet tea.” Dortilus followed that up with two words: “I’m speechless.”
At face value, the alleged comment is egregious in multiple ways. Not only does it lend credence to the flawed (and racist) argument that the 17-year-old Martin invited unjustified suspicion through his choice of clothing, but it also downplays the seriousness of the killing that happened after the high school student was returning from a store to buy the popular candy Skittles. That was when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman racially profiled Martin, disobeyed police orders to stop following him, shot him to death and was famously acquitted for doing so under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
The combination of the professor’s alleged words and the subtext to them is understandably enough to leave someone “speechless.”
The professor was identified in subsequent Twitter replies to Dortilus’ tweet as being Regina C. Butts, who, according to her FVSU bio, is an assistant professor and chair of the Business Administration and Economics Academic Department.
The tweet was alarming enough to capture the attention of renowned historian and Yale University professor Joanne Freeman, who encouraged Dortilus to “Report it” to FVSU.
Dortilus tweeted that not only had she reported it, but she did so with the dean of students, the provost, the vice president of academic affairs and even the office of FVSU’s President Paul Jones, who she said was “supposed to be handling the situation.”
A copy of the email she said she sent to Jones is below.
Some of the Twitter comments noted that the Butts’ alleged words were extra disrespectful since they came not only during Black History Month but also days after what would have been Trayvon Martin’s 26th birthday.
To be sure, this is not the first time Trayvon Martin’s name has been used in vain.
From a bartender promoting his signature “Trayvon Martini” to a history teacher in California dressing as the teenager for a yearbook photo to creating a “disrespectful” app in his name to even using his likeness on a gun range target, the way certain folks have downplayed the vigilante killing has been both ongoing and disturbing.
This is not the kind of publicity any university needs, but especially not FVSU, which in 2018 was at the center of a prostitution ring. In that case, two employees were fired and ultimately pleaded guilty to their roles in the prostitution ring.