Freshman Brooke Merino said she was just "tryna fit in" at her historically black college when she posted a selfie (below) to Snapchat depicting her face covered in black tape.
Merino is a goalie on the soccer team at Prairie View A&M University (PVU). According to the Daily Mail, one of her teammates, Braelah McGinnis, said Merino was visibly distressed when the photo went viral.
"I'm not condoning her actions," McGinnis said, "but ... she was shaking in fear and anxiety because she had realized what she'd done."
Merino left campus and is staying at home with her family in California. There is a pending disciplinary hearing at which the Student Code of Conduct board will decide how to address Merino's actions.
The reactions of the student body are mixed. Davon Read said, "When you have officers and police brutality and stuff like that going on outside of campus, when you come onto campus you want to feel like you're home."
PVU alumni Tracy Smith told Houston ABC affiliate KTRK, "Nobody thought it was funny. A lot of people are upset about it."
Kola Ladipo, a junior at PVU, said, "As of right now, the way our people are hurting, I don't think it was right," but added that he didn't think Merino meant any harm.
One student said he wasn't offended by the post, and added, "People like to take it overboard on social media and all that."
Another student agreed, saying "Honestly I think it's just making us look bad, by the way they're treating her ... She's just trying to fit in. Everybody tries to fit in at times."
In a letter of apology to the soccer team, Merino wrote:
Being here, I have felt what it is like to be a minority, and I have felt uncomfortable. I have felt out of place. But, I knew that was going to be part of this journey of going to an HBCU as a white Hispanic student...
I will admit that I was ignorant in my post. I was stupid for posting it without thinking more clearly about the consequences. But I'm not racist.
Social media expert Crystal Washington says that when events like these hit the news, they can be used as valuable moments for teaching.
She told KTRK, "I think any parent that's seeing this story right now, I don't care what your race or background is, should sit down with your kids right now, college age and under, and say 'look let's talk about what kind of things are and are not appropriate to post.'"
Some students said that Merino should be forgiven for her actions if she can use the experience as a learning opportunity.
One student explained her opinion saying, "To me, if she's brave enough to come back here and brave enough to come back here understanding there are people who don't want her here but willing to brave this environment and say I wanna learn, I wanna be better, what can I do, I think we should welcome her with open arms. She made a mistake and that's what it is."
In a statement, PVU president George C. Wright carefully balanced the views of the student body:
I know clearly the hurt and harm that can be done from intentional and unintentional acts of this nature.
Let me be clear that, whether intentional or unintentional, the actions have the same impact, and as a community, we denounce any racial slight whenever it occurs.
But let us not forget that the First Amendment ensures that discussion of even the most controversial and provocative issues will be vigorous and unfettered on our campus-without it, there can be no search for truth.