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Campus organization seeks meeting with university president following gift shop display controversy

The MSU Black Alumni Association says it scheduled a meeting with the university president to address the issue.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A campus organization is working to get more answers from Michigan State after a controversial gift shop display made national headlines. 

The incident involved a display at the Wharton Center gift shop, located on the East Lansing campus. 

The display had prominent black figures tied to a tree, including former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

RELATED: Black History Month display at MSU sparks outrage

The Michigan State University Black Alumni Association shared a letter on Facebook Sunday, Feb. 9 expressing their intention to meet with the university's president, Samuel L. Stanley, aimed at not only addressing the issue but preventing similar incidents in the future. 

See posts, photos and more on Facebook.

The display was the butt of a joke on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update, a newscast sketch put on by the satirical comedy show. During this weekend's episode, Michael Che, the anchor for the show, made light of the controversy by saying the dolls were "sold for 3/5ths the regular price." That is a reference to the Three-Fifths Compromise, which was a former agreement to count American slaves as three-fifths of a person when it comes to taxation and distributing seats in Congress to the states. 

According to a previous statement from the university, the display was removed and employees and volunteers of the Wharton Center will undergo racial bias training, focusing on the impact of intentional and unintentional racial bias. 

The full statement, provided to WLNS by MSU spokesperson Emily Gerkin Guerrant, is below:

“We were made aware of an inappropriate and insensitive display at the Wharton Center Gift Shop which used a tree-like rack to hold historical black figures. Regardless of the intent of the display, its impact cannot be ignored – people were hurt and offended. We sincerely apologize to our community members and have immediately removed the display. Additionally, after the Wharton Center reported the incident, it agreed to provide employees and volunteers with racial bias training that focuses on the impact and understanding of intentional and unintentional racial bias. We have work to do, and MSU remains committed to creating a culture that is inclusive and safe for all faculty, staff, students and visitors. As we enter Black History Month, it’s important we not only recognize the many contributions of African Americans, but we remember history and confront all bias.”

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