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Investigation into USA faculty’s ‘racially insensitive’ costumes concluded

By Summer Poole,


MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Two University of South Alabama faculty seen in “racially insensitive” photos will return to work at the school, according to a statement from the university. USA launched an investigation in 2021 into photos that showed one professor wearing a Confederate uniform and another posing with a whip and a noose at an on-campus Halloween party in 2014.

Bob Wood and Alex Sharland were accused of wearing “unacceptable” costumes in the workplace. Wood went to the costume contest wearing a Confederate soldier uniform and Sharland went as a “hanging judge,” carrying a noose and whip as props.

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USA said “an independent, external investigator” conducted the investigation, with “a diverse group of faculty, staff and students representing those who had expressed concerns served in the role of Complainants under the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access policy” of the Faculty Handbook. USA said it was the “unanimous conclusion of the Complainants” that Wood return to work “while engaging in the activities outlined below which are consistent with principles of restorative justice”:

  • He must submit a formal statement to the University community in which he apologized for his actions
  • He will participate in a moderated forum where he will address attendees selected by complainants from the University
  • He will not be assigned to teach in-person courses for the next year
  • Anyone who wishes to not take a class taught by Wood will have arrangements made for him

During the investigation, Wood said he decided to go to the costume contest “last minute.” He said the Confederate costume was one of the only ones left at the costume store. In an apology statement, Wood said, “In October 2014, I made a last-minute, ill-thought-out decision to rent a costume for a faculty, staff, and student Halloween contest held in the Mitchell College of Business. Regardless of how mindlessly I chose that costume, I sincerely apologize to everyone for doing so.”

“My actions occurred almost eight years ago, at a time when many Americans, including myself, were not as attuned or sensitive to the symbols of the Confederacy or to their underlying meanings,” said Wood. “My choice of costume was in no way intended to be hurtful.”

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Sharland, who is British, wore a black robe and white barrister’s wig similar to what British judges used to wear. Sharland also sported a whip and noose, which he claimed was to signify that he was dressed as George Jeffreys, the British “hanging judge” from the 17th century.

Faculty, academic administrators and a student served on the committee tasked with investigating Sharland’s actions. The committee’s unanimous determination was that Sharland’s costume “did not violate the policy but was unacceptable in the workplace,” according to USA’s statement. The committee recommended “an admonishment not to repeat the conduct and participation in an educational program addressing discriminatory and harassing conduct.”

Sharland will return to work. Wood’s full apology is attached below.

WKRG News 5 first broke this story in March 2021 . We spoke with current and former students and campus leadership, including USA president Tony Waldrup. At the time, former president of USA’s NAACP Chapter Jason Barnes said he was not surprised.

“It’s disappointing; however, it’s not surprising,” said Barnes. “I think about Black students particularly. All minorities on the campus, but particularly Black students, because that noose obviously has a direct correlation with Black people as it pertains to violence against them, especially racialized violence and terror.”

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