WEST LONG BRANCH — Monmouth University's president said school officials found a dozen photographs from decades-old yearbooks that could be considered racist or offensive, providing "a teachable moment" for current students and staff.

The university reviewed its collection of yearbooks after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam came under fire last month when his medical school yearbook page was shown to include a picture of a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan uniform. Northam initially acknowledged that he was in the photo, although he didn't say which person he was, but then withdrew the admission and said he was not in the photograph. The first-term Democrat has rejected calls to resign.

The news prompted schools across the country to review their own libraries of yearbooks. A USA Today review of 900 publications from 120 schools across the country found 200 examples of "offensive or racist material," including pictures of people in blackface — a racist tradition of whites cruelly caricaturing black people.

At Monmouth University, officials found 13 photographs from the 1960s to the 1980s with "racist and hurtful depictions."

"Ten of the photos depict individuals in blackface, while an additional three are offensive to other religious or cultural groups," President Grey J. Dimenna said in a letter to the university community this week.

"None of the images identify the individuals by name, and in some cases even the context is missing because the pictures are not associated with a specific campus event or activity," he adds.

"What is unmistakable is that these pictures are offensive and do not reflect the values of Monmouth University today. Across the country, former students of other universities have spoken out about keeping silent when confronted with blatant racism, like wearing blackface at public events."

Dimenna said the discovery "provides an opportunity for constructive action."

"I have charged the President's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion to work with the University Librarian and other experts on campus to ensure that we have resources available to add context to this upsetting and painful part of our history," his letter says.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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