Daily Egyptian

Student demands apology from SIU swim team after controversial photo

By Tyler Davis, @TDavis_DE

An SIU student is demanding an apology from swim coach Rick Walker and his team after a photo discovered Wednesday night depicted four Saluki swimmers wearing sombreros, fake mustaches and shirts that read “Juan Direction.”

Shanna Arceo, who is of Mexican descent, said she and her roommates were in the women’s locker room of the Recreation Center when they saw the photo posted on a poster board near lockers. Arceo, a senior from Chicago studying psychology, took a picture of the photo and put it on social media, claiming it is racially insensitive.

Poster boards covered in pictures of the team were put up in the locker room and most of the photos were harmless. But this one caught Arceo and her two roommates’ attention after finishing their workouts about 11 p.m. 

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“I took it to my Snapchat and put ‘Shout out to the SIU swim team for being ignorant’ because I don’t see that this can be OK,'” Arceo said. “We have people from all over the world coming to our school. They should feel comfortable in a public place and not feel like they’re going to be ridiculed for … their culture.” 

While the team has apologized for offending anyone with the picture, Saluki Athletics pointed out that there are signs in the locker room that prohibit taking photographs.

Freshmen swimmers Alex Martinez, Jordan Ries, Jessica Peck and Emma Brazeau are in the photo, according to a person close to the team who wanted to remain anonymous. The swimmers were donning shirts that read “Juan Direction,” as a play on words for the band “One Direction.” The source said the photo was taken during Unofficial Halloween and has been on the Internet since then. 

Arceo, who said Walker has agreed to meet with her to talk about the photo, took special offense to it because her grandparents wore similiar clothes while in their native Mexico. 

“Being a Latina, I was taken back by it,” Arceo said. “I wanted more people to see it so I took it to my Twitter and to my Facebook. People were screen shotting it and spreading the word about it.”

She felt that Martinez, who is also Mexican, disrespected his own culture by wearing the garb. Martinez has not responded to requests for an interview. 

After the photo had been retweeted a few dozen times early Thursday by different students, Arceo said she received backlash from people on social media defending the picture, calling it a harmless joke. 

Saluki Athletics has released a statement from Walker in response to the circulation of the photo. 

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University of Louisville President James R. Ramsey issued an apology after he hosted a Halloween party that featured staff members wearing sombreros, fake facial hair and holding maracas

Coraiyma Melendres, Arceo’s roommmate who also saw the photo, said the student-athletes should remember they are representing the university at all times, so they should avoid actions that can be considered offensive. 

“They’re grown enough to know exactly what they were doing,” said Melendres, a senior from Chicago studying social work. “To some people, they can be considered a role model, or someone they can look up to.” 

The three women in the photo competed in the women’s Missouri Valley Conference Championships that weekend at Edward J. Shea Natatorium in the Recreation Center. The team won first place in the tournament for the first time since 2007.

René Poitevin, Hispanic/Latino Resource Center coordinator, said he first saw the photo Thursday morning.

He said he heard outrage from a handful of students, but he didn’t feel the athletes were trying to be offensive.

“I didn’t assume any ill will, just a misguided attempt at being funny,” he said.

Despite their intent, Poitevin said the athletes’ actions were offensive.

Arceo said no matter what, this behavior should not be allowed on campus.

“If they don’t do anything about it, it’s letting other people think it’s OK to ridicule and mock other people’s cultures and that’s not setting a good example,” she said. 

Poitevin said he has not heard from any of the swimmers or coaches, but would like to talk with them early next week.

“I want to use this as an opportunity to have a discussion about race and identity at SIU,” he said. “I want to use this to create a safe space to talk about this.”

Austin Miller contributed to this report

Tyler Davis can be reached at [email protected]

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