The Collegian
Thursday, December 08, 2022

Students react to Gov. Northam yearbook photo

<p>Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam 1984 medical school yearbook page.&nbsp;</p>

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam 1984 medical school yearbook page. 

Haunted by his past, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has yet to resign since his yearbook page  featuring a racist photo became public. Many UR students who supported him said they were not happy with this news.

A picture of two men, one in blackface and one wearing a Ku Klux Klan uniform, appeared on Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page. After apologizing for his appearance in the photo the day it resurfaced, Northam later took back his admission and denied being in the photo. But he admitted he has worn blackface before, for a Michael Jackson costume he wore while in a dance contest in 1984.

Northam is under intense pressure to resign by members of the Democratic Party. However, he has not agreed to do so. Many members of the UR community supported Northam throughout his campaign and during his time as governor so far. 

But these opinions were tested after the news of the photograph broke. 

The UR College Democrats executive board issued an official statement on the matter, junior president Robert Ostrom said. The statement said: “The recently surfaced photos of Governor Northam are both unacceptable and deeply disappointing. Racist costumes such as blackface have no place in our society. As college students, we understand the consequences of any actions we commit as young adults, and believe Northam should be held to highest of standards. Governor Northam is no longer able to represent every Virginian and must resign as leader of our great Commonwealth.” 

Many members of the UR College Democrats supported Northam as governor. First-year and College Dems member Riley Place is passionate about the issue and disgusted by the photo. 

“To take a photo like that is a clear demonstration of racism," Place said. "I don't know how much he's grown since then, but it's very difficult to justify. That’s not what we stand for as Democrats or as Americans." 

Place believes Northam should resign because evidence of his involvement in an action like this reduces his legitimacy as a leader who can embody state, national and Democratic Party values, he said. He emphasized his belief in a double standard between the two main parties and the need for dialogue.

“Now is an opportunity for both parties to come together and set the moral bars for our leaders,” Place said. 

Junior Claire Tate, president of Planned Parenthood Generation Action on campus, was a supporter of Northam. She canvassed and phone banked as a volunteer for Northam's campaign. Tate said she had been appalled when she had heard about the photo. 

“I wouldn’t have expected it by anyone in politics, especially not someone who got to that high of an office,” Tate said. 

Northam is embarrassing the whole Democratic Party, she said. To Tate, it doesn't matter whether Northam himself was in the photo -- the fact that it is on his yearbook page is evidence enough of his racist and unprofessional tendencies. She looked at him differently now, she said, and was disheartened by the news.

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“People elected are supposed to be vetted and that routinely just doesn’t work,” Tate said. “I think he needs to resign.”

Junior Dan Mahoney was an advocate for and wholehearted supporter of Northam. He was a full-time fellow on Northam's primary campaign staff. Mahoney worked under a community organizer and helped recruit local volunteers in Petersburg to promote Northam. Mahoney said news of the picture had shocked him. 

“Obviously I am extremely disappointed and confused,” Mahoney said. "I think it's difficult to reconcile the policies that his administration has worked to implement and how helpful those have been for underserved communities in Virginia with those images.”

Mahoney said he was not excusing the images in any way. But he has mixed opinions on whether Northam should resign, he said.

“On some level I think he should resign, in part because I appreciate the value of maintaining possession of the moral high ground as a party,” Mahoney said. “At the same time, now the line of succession is Fairfax, who is facing sexual assault allegations, followed by Herring who himself admitted to wearing blackface in the 1980s.” 

In terms of maintaining stability and working toward liberal causes, it would not be in the best interest of the state for Northam to resign, Mahoney said. Mahoney looks at Northam in a different light now, but he said if Northam had been racist at some point, he was not anymore.

As the talk of Northam’s resignation continues, the issue of racism hit UR students even closer to home. University president Ronald Crutcher sent out a university-wide email referencing a “racist yearbook image” in a 1980 edition of a UR yearbook. Crutcher called the photo "repulsive" and wrote that the university was working to “confront historical issues of racism and discrimination directly and honestly.”

Contact news writer Morgan Tolan at 

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