Staff from Brock University are demanding that the school take action after a group of students in “blackface” were awarded a cash prize at a campus Halloween party.

A group of non-black students went to a Halloween party on Oct. 30 dressed as the Jamaican National Bobsled Team, according to an open letter posted Monday to the Brock Labour Studies Facebook page. As part of their costumes, the students used black make-up or paint to cover their faces.

The party was held at Issac’s Bar and Grill, located in the university’s student-alumni centre. It was organized by the Brock University Students’ Union.

The students who dressed up as members of the bobsled team were awarded a cash prize for their costumes, the letter says.

The professors who wrote the letter say that the university community needs to recognize that wearing blackface is racist and completely inappropriate.

"Students, staff and faculty at Brock University need to understand that such costumes are not 'just a joke,'" reads the letter. "Regardless of the intent or motivation of the students in question, donning blackface for Halloween is never okay; it is racist, full stop."

Popularized in the 19th century, blackface is a form of makeup that was used by theatrical performers to represent a black person, usually in minstrel shows. Over time, blackface was abandoned by the theatre community, as it was recognized as being racist and deeply offensive.

The professors note the ugly history of the practice in the letter.

"Blackface can never be disassociated from the vicious legacy of white supremacy and institutionalized anti-Black racism in the United States and Canada, just as redface or 'playing Indian' cannot be disassociated from colonialism and the subjugation and dispossession of indigenous peoples," they write.

The professors end their letter by calling on the school's administration to issue a response to the incident. "A university committed to equity, diversity, and anti-racism must address such incidents head on," they write.

They warn that failure to do so will be sending a message that "racism is an accepted reality of campus life."

Students' union issues apology

Following the party, the school’s students' union issued a statement Monday apologizing for the incident.

In the statement, Student Union President Roland Erman said the union is taking steps to ensure a similar incident doesn't happen again.

He said the union will be expanding equity and human rights training and awareness to close to 200 students and staff who are hired by BUSU.

The union will also be reviewing how events such as the costume contest are organized and conducted.

Erman said that most of these contests are decided by crowd applause and are "very arbitrary in nature." He said that in the future the union will ensure that entrants into contests are first vetted.