Last Monday, December 16, upon turning in his final thesis at the Universidad Siglo 21, Tomás Vidal decided to celebrate his graduation. He decided he would parade around in a somewhat macabre costume, parodying a victim of femicide.
The display cost him his degree and proved to be the catalyst for a firestorm of social media criticism.
The student attempted to mimic a cadaver. He went around campus wrapped in plastic, with a noose around his neck. He also flaunted a cardboard sign saying “¡La culpa no era mía!” (“it wasn’t my fault!”), a phrase from a viral chant popularised by feminist group Las Tesis. To top off his get-up, Vidal wore a green handkerchief worn by activists in favour of legal and free abortion.
Argentine graduations are often celebrated by dressing up in satirical get-ups or involve acts of public humiliation, such as being covered in uncooked eggs and flour.
However, Vidal’s particularly tone-deaf iteration of the practice landed himself in the realm of hate speech, some critics charged.
The would-be graduate in international trade sparked a tidal wave of outrage on twitter. The hashtag '#TomásVidal' accumulated upwards of 96,000 tweets in just a handful of days.
The incident was taken very seriously by the university's authorities, who released a statement via Twitter on Tuesday morning at around 1am.
“In response to the reproachable actions by student Tomás Vidal during graduation celebrations yesterday, the authorities of Universidad Siglo 21 have summoned the student to notify him that an immediate summary has been enacted, which will define the responsibilities and sanctions corresponding to his conduct, which was contrary to the values this institution promotes and represents.”
The Córdoba-based university’s official account added that the institution "will not permit any demonstration or behaviour constituting an attack against women, equal rights, the peaceful coexistence between citizens and the respect for difference.”
Siglo 21's dean, María Belén Mendé later confirmed to the local Córdoba news radio station Noticiero Doce that other sanctions were coming, adding the university would “fail him for his final seminar, he will repeat the semester, and be required to take a class on gender and diversity.”
Mendé also told local daily Clarín that the decision had been made “within 15 minutes of seeing the photos,” ading that Vidal had been "summoned to a meeting,” but that he had" missed the appointment.
The Tala Rugby Club, which the student played for, also made a statement on Twitter, saying that "the Board of Directors, partners and the community of Tala Rugby Club repudiate any discriminatory manifestations about women's rights, such as the one displayed today by a group of young members of our club.”
That final comment drew attention to other young men who appear in images circulating online. One, for example, shows other individuals huddled together around the infamous ex-graduate as he poses for a photograph. The image is a screengrab from the Instagram story of one of Vidal’s teammates at the rugby club, Juan Astrada, and is captioned with the phrase: “Felicitaciones negro."