A controversial photo that surfaced Wednesday morning on social media has the Creston community reeling in the aftermath.
The image pictures five Creston teenagers donning Ku Klux Klan-reminiscent hoods, holding a rifle with a scope and a Confederate flag while standing around a burning cross.
The individuals were confirmed by the Creston News Advertiser to be Creston/O-M Panther football players, and have since been dismissed from the team by head coach Brian Morrison.
“This is more important than games Friday night,” Morrison said. “This is talking to parents about, not just the right and wrong things to do but about lifelong decisions trying to be a good person.”
Media outlets from across the country have picked up the story, drawing national attention to the city and school district.
In a statement sent to the Creston News Advertiser Thursday, Southwestern Community College (SWCC) explains how administrators are handling the incident.
Southwestern Community College is home to students from across the country, as well as around the world. In recent weeks, the national and world headlines have impacted the college’s students, many of whom are new to Southwestern, new to Creston, and living away from home for the first time in their lives.
When the media headlines turned local yesterday, the college felt it was timely to touch base with students to reinforce that the college’s top priority is always their safety and well-being on- and off-campus.
An e-mail was sent to students from Beth Kulow, Southwestern’s dean of student services, to again welcome students to campus for the semester, let them know college personnel are available if they have concerns, and remind them of related college policies.
Per the Creston News Advertiser’s request, the content of the e-mail, sent Wednesday, from Kulow to Southwestern students is listed below:
“In light of recent local, national, and world headlines, I thought it was a great time to touch base with you, our Southwestern students. The school year itself is off to a great start here at SWCC and we are very glad you are a part of our student body. Unfortunately, it’s not all been good news in the media and on social media, and I know it’s sometimes hard not to dwell on these concerns.
“Because these issues have touched so many of us, it is timely to discuss the resources we have available if you ever need to talk. Southwestern is a small intimate campus and we value and respect your opinions and are always concerned about your safety. We do not tolerate discriminatory behavior and prohibit discrimination and harassment. We are dedicated to providing a safe and healthy environment for you, our students.
“My door is always open, as well as the doors of all faculty and staff members. We care about you, want you to feel safe, and don’t ever want you to hesitate if you need to talk.”
Union County Attorney’s Office
In a statement sent to the Creston News Advertiser Thursday, the Union County Attorney’s Office also made known its stance on the incident.
The Union County Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement are generally aware of the incident to which you refer. At this juncture, the school has considered this to be a violation of school policy. County officials have not been contacted nor requested to take any official action.
While I recognize that individuals were likely offended by the image shown in the photograph, unless or until there becomes an issue of specific conduct showing that the images were directed at individuals (or groups of individuals) for a specific purpose, criminal statutes do not apply. The photograph itself falls into the category of protected speech by virtue of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. We are continuing to monitor the situation.
While I have personal opinions as to the inappropriate nature of the image, it remains that I am professionally obligated to follow the statutes as created by the Iowa Legislature. The fact that persons are offended by the image is not, per se, a sufficient basis to initiate any criminal investigation nor any criminal charges.