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UND finds no code violations in two racially charged photo incidents

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Two racially charged photos posted to social media in recent weeks don't violate the University of North Dakota's code of student life, officials announced Wednesday, Oct. 5. The investigation, which concluded Wednesday and w...

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Two racially charged photos posted to social media in recent weeks don't violate the University of North Dakota's code of student life, officials announced Wednesday, Oct. 5.

The investigation, which concluded Wednesday and was conducted by the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, found the two photos were not violations because of "the constitutional protection of free speech." The investigation into the two incidents is now closed, according to a news release from the university.

UND will not disclose the details of the findings because of restrictions by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, according to the news release.

The first of the two controversial social media posts depicted two women and a man wearing UND apparel smiling in what appears to be a residence hall. The photo is captioned "Locked the black b**** out."

The second image showed four people with their faces covered with black material and the caption "Black Lives matter."

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University police considered possible criminal charges for the first photo, but the case was dropped by the complainant.

Both photos were posted on Snapchat, a popular mobile app used to post video and images.

The two racially charged photos gained attention and led to black student leaders at UND holding a rally Friday to share their experiences with racism and ask for the university to adopt a zero-tolerance policy when matters, such as the two photos, come up. After the rally, some of the organizers met with UND President Mark Kennedy to talk about their concerns about the campus environment.

In a letter to the campus community, Kennedy condemned the two photos, but said a zero-tolerance policy is not possible for UND's campus.

"While I appreciate the desire for such a policy, it is unachievable under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," Kennedy wrote. "The challenge we all face is to find the balance between wanting to eliminate expressions of racism and bigotry and supporting the free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. If we value freedom of speech, we must acknowledge that some may find the expressions of others unwelcome, painful, or even, offensive. We can, however, speak out and condemn such expressions, and we can work to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment."

Kennedy announced last week that the school will form a diversity advisory council to provide recommendations for improving the campus climate on issues of diversity and inclusion.

The president tapped Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Sandra Mitchell to lead the process of selecting no more than 12 individuals to serve on the council.

The council will review the university's existing diversity and inclusion practice and programs and identify the best practices to enhance the university's understanding of diversity and inclusion in the higher education setting, Kennedy wrote.

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"I want to make sure we have courses that challenge students to consider alternative perspectives and which will help students better understand how effectively engaging those with diverse backgrounds is essential for their future success," Kennedy wrote.

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