A second admissions officer at Wake Forest University is apologizing for appearing in yearbook photos with the Confederate flag, following an apology by the head of undergraduate admissions last week.
Kevin Pittard, an associate dean of admissions, graduated from Wake Forest University with a bachelor of arts in 1985. As a member of the Kappa Alpha Order, he appeared in yearbook photos with a large Confederate flag in 1983 and 1984. Although his name is listed under the fraternity’s group photo in 1985, he is not actually in the photo.
“I apologize and express my deep regret for taking part in those photos,” Pittard said in an email to City Beat. “I made a mistake that hurt and angered others, and I should have known better. I know that in my years in the admissions office, I have worked steadily to increase the diversity of our community and will continue to do so.”
The elite fraternity — the first established at Wake Forest University — has conspicuously advertised its veneration of the Confederacy and Gen. Robert E. Lee, who is described as its “spiritual founder.” In 2014, the Wake Forest chapter caused pain to students of color with a “rap music video,” or “dress like a black person”-themed party.
The Kappa Alpha page in the 1984 edition of the university’s yearbook The Howler — Pittard’s junior year — notes that fraternity brothers regarded Lee as “the ideal example of… the finest traits of manliness” and a “spiritual father.” The yearbook entry also notes that “the highlight activity is the Old South Celebration which is held in the spring to honor the traditions of the old South. The brothers dress in the old Confederate uniforms to symbolize the beliefs of that period.”
Pittard did not respond to a request for elaboration on his decision to join the fraternity or his evolving beliefs on the legacy of the Confederacy.
Pittard is the husband of Michele Gillespie, the dean of the college, who has academic oversight for the undergraduate school of arts and sciences at Wake Forest.
After students spoke out during a community forum on Feb. 21, Pittard’s boss — Dean of Admissions Martha Blevins Allman — emailed an apology to students, faculty and staff.
“The flag was a symbol of pain and racism then just as it is now, and I understand that much differently in 2019 than I did in 1982,” Allman said. She went on to say that “throughout my career in admissions, one of my goals has been to create a more diverse and inclusive Wake Forest.”
Allman, who is listed as a member of the Fideles sorority, posed alongside her future husband, Joe Allman, with the Kappa Alpha Order in front of the Confederate flag for the 1982 yearbook photo.
University President Nathan Hatch addressed the controversy in an email to the campus community on Feb. 22, acknowledging the “acute and ongoing hurt, frustration and fatigue surrounding the underrepresented student experience on campus and the slow pace of change in bringing racial equity to our community,” while also accepting Allman’s apology.
On Sunday evening, a group calling itself the Wake Forest University Anti-Racism Coalition issued a call for the Allmans and Pittard to make “a formal public apology.” The students said, “While President Hatch publicly accepted the apology from Dean Allman, we believe that it was unsubstantiated and that the student body, but particularly black students, deserve an explanation and vehement condemnation of these actions.”
Among eight other demands in the letter, the students are calling for “a zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy”; dedicated meeting and event space for black students; transparency in the campus bias reporting process; clearly articulated consequences “for racially motivated acts against people of color”; a commitment to hire additional black counselors to support rising enrollment among black students; and removal of “all monuments, plaques, busts, portraits, buildings, and other things on campus dedicated to Confederates, white supremacists and eugenicists.” The statement also calls for renaming Wingate Hall, Taylor Residence Hall and Poteat Residence Hall.
Washington Manly Wingate, a Baptist minister, served as president of Wake Forest College — then located in Wake Forest — before and after the Civil War. While the college was forced to close during the Civil War, its buildings were used as financial security for Confederate States bonds, according to the NCpedia website. Charles Elisha Taylor, who was the college president from 1894 to 1905, served in the Confederate army. William Louis Poteat, Taylor’s successor, is known for defending the teaching of evolution, a focal point of controversy in the South in the 1920s. A 2002 article in the Winston-Salem Journal also described Poteat as “an early and vocal supporter of the eugenics movement.”
As a final demand, the students call on the university to acknowledge “that higher admission rates of black students does not at all compensate for the anti-black racism that is consistently experienced here. We do not need temporary solutions for a deeply rooted institutional problem.”
The statement by the anti-racism coalition on Sunday asserts that “the Wake Forest we know looks eerily similar to the one depicted in these compromising and incriminating yearbook photographs.”
The statement goes on to say: “While time has passed, black students are facing the same problems encountered by the first black student admitted to this university in 1962. Racism is an issue that persists on this campus not only in the actions of a few students or organizations, but in the inaction of this administration in light of several racially motivated incidents targeting students of color in the recent past. Anti-black sentiment at Wake Forest has consistently been met with the coddling of white students and efforts towards education in diversity rather than real consequences. Our pleas for action are always met with the promise of educational initiatives and community calls to conversation that never yield effective results.”
Disclosure: The author of this article led a class at Wake Forest University in the fall of 2017 as an adjunct faculty member.