Pace Hosts Open Forum, Community Reacts to Controversial Photo


Joseph Tucci/The Pace Chronicle

Students, faculty, and administration attended the Open Forum on Sept. 10

Pace’s Office of Multicultural Affairs & Diversity Programs (MADP) hosted an open forum on Thursday afternoon at Kessel Student Center to “engage the campus community in dialogue” regarding the photo of Tyler Owens.

Community reactions had been circulating on campus and online since the controversial photo of Owens was publicly released by News 12 Westchester last Sunday.

Owens was called, but hung up before an interview could be conducted.

Andrew Rondeau, Football Head Coach, and Mark Brown, Athletics Director, declined to comment given the ongoing investigation on the photograph.

“I just don’t have any tolerance for things like that,” Pace junior Nihal Al Qawasmi said. “My first reaction, because it’s football, because it’s [athletics], was that it wasn’t going to be treated justly, so I was really excited when I saw the email where the school recognized how problematic [the photograph] was.”

Al Qawasmi further said that she hopes the school carries out a just investigation.

Chrystal Azatassou, a member of the Black Student Union (BSU), said her organization admits the picture has racist connotations, but that it cannot judge whether Owens is racist or not—at least not until the investigation is over.

“People do stupid things for stupid reasons,” Azatassou said. “If it does turn out that Owens had malicious intentions, then the BSU will make sure justice is served.”

Cornell Craig, Director of MADP, agreed on the importance of the investigation. He said the Pace community should avoid the extremes of either dismissing the photo as a joke or demanding stronger punishment for Owens, and that nothing is permanent until the investigation is completed.

Craig referred to the picture as offensive and indefensible, and added that there is no differentiation between the joke and the biased act. Still, Craig said this could be an opportunity for learning and growth.

“The focus is students being comfortable at Pace,” Craig said. “The issue at hand is the ideology that says it is just a joke, that offensive things are okay. To dismiss it is to further marginalize the affected groups.”

Craig’s point was reinforced by a number of black students at the forum who said the photo, and the following dismissal of it as a joke, made them feel unsafe on campus.

Jewish students were also present at the forum, and commented on the casual anti-Semitism displayed by the Nazi salute in the picture.

“I chose this college very carefully,” Pace junior Beverly Levine said. “I experienced anti-Semitism growing up, I grew up with family members who survived the Holocaust. It’s not funny and it hurts people. It brings people to into very dark places, and it makes us feel unsafe and unwanted.”

Professor George Picoulas, Head of Political Science in Pleasantville, said the photo is a product of ignorance. He also said the photo was troublesome for him as a teacher, as it meant he and his colleagues had failed to reach Owens as educators.

There were also students with a different view of the situation at the forum.

Freshman Lauryn Beauge said everybody has embarrassing things from their past, and that Owens should not be punished further. She also said Owens “probably does not even believe in [the racist symbols].”

Senior Justin Fred, one of the captains of the football team, said people do not understand the photo was meant for a small group of people.

“It was not meant to be leaked out to the world,” Fred said. “It was Snapchat, and it was not even supposed to be a permanent picture.”

Dr. Durahn Taylor, Assistant Professor of History said society is racist and will continue to be so.

“What we have to do, in an educational space like this, [is to] understand why current things are not okay, and do what we can as a community to push back against that,” Dr. Taylor said. “One person at a time, one community at a time.”

Dr. Marie Werner, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, said that, in the end, Owens still has a right to free speech, but she hopes that he realizes that what he did was wrong.

“He should, minimally, be apologizing publicly, and in private to his team,” Werner said.


The official investigation is being conducted by the Affirmative Action Office, according to Craig.