BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama university apologized publicly Friday after discovering T-shirts depicting a black man eating watermelon had been printed by a sorority, which said members initially failed to notice the racist illustration.
"I was repulsed by the image," Samford University President Andy Westmoreland said in an email to students and employees. "I lack the words to express my own sense of frustration."
Administrators are conducting a review that could lead to disciplinary action against the Alpha Delta Pi chapter at Samford, where the embarrassing disclosure came as students and faculty were celebrating graduations at the Birmingham campus Friday.
The T-shirts depicted a map of Alabama marked with an array of images — including an illustration of a black man holding a slice of watermelon to his mouth in the map's southeast corner. University spokesman Philip Poole said the shirts were ordered as keepsakes for the sorority's spring formal.
"In selecting the T-shirt, we failed to focus on the specific images in the design," Lauren Hammond, president of the sorority's Samford chapter, said in a statement issued through its national headquarters Friday. "We are horrified by our oversight. Had we recognized what the design details depicted, we would never have purchased the shirts."
Hammond said sorority members have been told not to wear the shirts, which she said were being collected so they could be destroyed. Karina Shaver, who identified herself in an email as a media representative for Alpha Delta Pi, said chapter members originally found the map image using a Google search.
Poole said an employee of the campus Greek Life office found out the shirts had been delivered and alerted administrators Thursday afternoon. In a statement apologizing for the shirts, Samford officials said the sorority ordered the offending T-shirts even after their design had been rejected when it was submitted to the university for approval.
"The shirt design absolutely contradicts the values of respect and dignity that our organization prides itself on," said a statement from Alpha Delta Pi's national headquarters. "We do not tolerate, and would never intentionally approve any design with racial stereotypes/overtones or any other offensive images or language."