Student Council calls on Northam to resign, condemns his 1984 yearbook photo

The Student Council Executive Board, various Representatives sponsored the resolution

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Ellie Brasacchio, a third-year College student and Chair of the Student Council Representative Body who co-sponsored the resolution, encouraged the Representative Body to vote for it at the beginning of the legislative session. 

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

Student Council’s Representative Body passed a resolution Tuesday calling on Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) to immediately resign from office and condemning a photograph from his 1984 medical school yearbook page, depicting one person dressed in blackface and another as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Ellie Brasacchio, a third-year College student and Chair of the Student Council Representative Body who co-sponsored the resolution, encouraged the Representative Body to vote for it at the beginning of the legislative session. 

“We believe as Student Council that Virginia Governor Northam should resign from his post as governor,” Brasacchio said. “We believe he is not fit to keep serving as governor and has lost the trust of the Commonwealth.” 

After Brasacchio spoke, first-year Council President Denzel Mitchell suggested an amendment to change the first clause of the bill to acknowledge Northam’s denial that he appeared in the offensive photo. 

“As of now, he has denied being in the photo, and there is no conclusive evidence that he is in the photo,” Mitchell said. “We should say that the photo was on his page, but I don’t know if we should jump ahead of ourselves and that he was in the photo as we do not know.” 

Northam released a video Friday evening in response to the circulating photograph and said, “I accept responsibility for my past actions, and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust.” 

Northam initially apologized for appearing in the photo. Later, at a press conference Saturday, Northam denied appearing in the photo but did admit to wearing blackface for a dance contest in 1984 — the same year the racist yearbook photo was published — in order to look more like Michael Jackson. 

Mitchell also proposed the addition of an entirely new clause to the resolution, which reads, “Governor Northam admitted to wearing blackface posing as Michael Jackson the same year in a talent show in San Antonio, Texas​.”

Neither amendment faced opposition from any sponsor of the bill, and the resolution then passed with a vote of 16 in favor and three abstentions. 

The resolution also “denounces the University’s own history of minstrelsy and white supremacy and calls for renewed attention to this history.” For example, the namesake of Corks & Curls — U.Va’s official yearbook — is, according to The Washington Post, “minstrel slang for the burned cork used to blacken faces and the curly Afro wigs that were signature costume pieces.” 

Ryan Alexander, a third-year Batten student and Student Council representative, said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily that the passage of the resolution was an important public statement for Student Council to make, as many people of color voted for Northam in the 2017 election. 

According to exit polling data collected by The Washington Post, Northam received 87 percent of the African American vote and 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2017. African American voters made up 20 percent of the total vote share, while Hispanic voters comprised 6 percent. 

“Often times people of color, historically in the South and in this country, never really have good, viable options for candidates to put up for office,” Alexander said. “It's usually just choosing the lesser of two evils for black people.” 

Alexander added that he supported the resolution because of what it symbolised in terms of Student Council unequivocally condemning racism. 

“Resolutions don't always particularly make anything happen, but it does say something about the sentiment of Student Council and what we value and what we represent here at U.Va.,”  Alexander said. “[It] also provides allyship to so many people who were hurt or affected by these things coming out against Governor Northam.” 

“These things affect the lives of people in our country so deeply, and when things like this come out it’s really hurtful, but oftentimes not surprising to people of color — especially for black people who have experienced these kinds of things throughout history,” Alexander added. 

Both University Democrats and College Republicans at U.Va. have called for Northam’s resignation following the emergence of the photograph of Northam in what the University Democrats described in their statement as “an obvious display of anti-Black racism.” 

In a statement issued Sunday, University President Jim Ryan said the photo was “shocking and racist, no matter who was in it.” While Ryan did not explicitly call on Northam to resign the governorship, he said that the public’s loss of trust in an elected official renders effective leadership impossible. 

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