Virginia Governor criticized for 1984 yearbook photo

By Mollee Ryan, Freshman Music Therapy major, Opinion editor

All of us have done something we regret. Whether it was when we were barely old enough to realize what we were doing would come back at us, or it was a rash decision made in a hurry, it is something that’s happened to everyone. In most cases, these rash decisions are small matters that usually don’t come with much consequence. But occasionally, people make such foolhardy decisions that no matter how long ago it happened or whatever circumstance it happened under, the consequences will be great and prominent.

That is exactly what Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is dealing with right now.

On Feb. 1, pictures of a person dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and a person in blackface surfaced. Northam later confirmed that it was, in fact, him in one of those costumes, but he did not identify which costume he had worn. The picture was featured in Northam’s 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, something that was published more than 30 years ago.

“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now,” Northam said in a statement given on the same evening the pictures became public.

Immediately, Northam received pressure for the offensive photo. Fellow Democrats urged the governor to resign, as they felt this type of offense was none to take lightly, as it should not be. In response, Northam was quick to recognize Virginia’s racially-charged past and refused to resign so he himself could learn from his mistakes and correct what had been done.

The question stands: Should Northam face intense consequence for this rash decision he made while a student in medical school, or should he be excused for now and harshly supervised in case of a next time?

No matter what costume Northam was wearing, the picture is offensive and distasteful. In no circumstance is it acceptable to participate in anything that caricaturizes another race. However, this incident happened while Northam was in medical school; he was a youth right out of undergraduate school. So many colleges kids make bad decisions they will regret. Additionally, this photo was made public on the internet more than a year after he was elected governor of Virginia. That should have been something that was brought about during the time he was elected as governor, or even beforehand. People change, and when the picture went public, Northam swore that the photograph “is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for and throughout my career in the military, in medicine and in public service,” per the New York Times. This is his first offense, an offense that happened while he was still in college.

However, although I do believe Northam should not have to resign because of this incident, I do find it very foolish of him to pose or even participate in such a picture, especially if he had visions of being a politician in the future. His actions were not excusable. They are irresponsible and unwise. He should have thought twice, or even more, about the hurt that he could have caused in that moment or further in the future.

Although I don’t think Northam should have to resign because of this incident that happened in 1984, I don’t think it is right or should be looked over. Northam has a lot of work to do as far as gaining his people’s and his party’s trust back, along with making up for his mistakes.

Leave a Reply