Jerry Falwell Jr. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

At least four Black staff members and four Black athletes have left the evangelical Liberty University in Virginia following a tweet by university president Jerry Falwell Jr. that mocked Gov. Ralph Northam's blackface scandal, AP reports.

Why it matters: Falwell, an ally of President Trump, has drawn criticism for his political positions in the past, including his decision to bring students back to campus in March despite the threat of the coronavirus. But people involved with the university "have become more willing to openly criticize the university’s approach to race and diversity" in recent weeks, according to AP.

  • The news comes amid a national conversation about the legacy of racism in America, spurred by the killing of George Floyd.

The backdrop: In a now-deleted tweet from late May, Falwell wrote that he opposed Northam's mandate for Virginians to wear masks “until I decided to design my own.” Attached to the tweet was a picture of a mask bearing a photo of someone wearing blackface that appeared on Northam’s medical yearbook page, made public last year.

  • 35 of the school's Black alumni denounced Falwell and suggested he step down in a letter sent to him days after the incident, AP reported in early June.
  • Falwell apologized for the tweet a week later: “When I was swinging at the governor, I inadvertently hit some people that love me ... the Liberty African American community.”

The big picture: The percentage of Black students who make up Liberty's resident undergraduate classes dropped from 13% in 2007 to just 5% in 2019, according to internal documents obtained by AP.

  • The people who are leaving the university include a diversity retention director, one basketball player and three football players.

Go deeper

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The state of play: The Northams were tested after one of their staff "who works closely within the couple's living quarters" tested positive. The governor is asymptomatic, while his wife is "experiencing mild symptoms." They plan to isolate at home for 10 days.

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The big picture: This is the first time in U.S. presidential history that climate change was a featured issue at a debate. It signals how the problem has become part of the fabric of our society. More extreme weather, like the wildfires ravaging Colorado, is pushing the topic to the front-burner.

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