April 3, 2007

Students Protest Fraternity Parties

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In light of two fraternity parties featuring racially-charged themes, several groups across campus, including Black Students United, United Progressives and Amnesty International held a rally on Ho Plaza yesterday calling for Cornell to end such racially-themed parties.

Student speakers openly criticized the University for failing to provide a safe environment for all students, despite promoting its image as one of diversity.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon hosted an ‘International Borders’ party and Lambda Chi Alpha hosted a ‘South of the Border,’ party. According to the Associated Press, racially-themed parties have occurred at colleges across the country.

Akua Gyamerah ’07, a member of Cornell Alliance for Immigrant Rights, said, “We are not here to make examples of these two fraternities … But this should not be tolerated, we should not have to wait until things get bad enough.”

The podium at which participants spoke was adorned with pictures of drunken students portraying Federales, Mexican immigrants and other racial stereotypes. To some, the rally served as a reminder that many people do not understand the hardships that these groups have to endure.

“It is a disgusting idea that I attend Cornell and that it fosters racism and creates stereotypes. The problems here at Cornell affect the entire nation … People don’t know whether they are being racist or not and people don’t feel like they’re being prejudiced,” said Marlene Ramos ’09, a member of Movimiento Studiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan, which also co-sponsored the event.

Ramos also said that politicians do not realize the influence they have on students as they openly blast immigrant rights and push Minutemen to guard U.S. borders, who often employ violent tactics to keep immigrants from entering the country.

According to Noemi Molitor grad, the problem with fraternity parties such as these is that they fuel systematic discrimination and inequality. She explained the rally was not simply about the parties but mainly, “It’s about who can feel safe on this campus.” She alleged that the parties are more than just parties, rather they are interpersonal acts of violence towards the people these events are making fun of.

Several students spoke in depth about these social events that reduce their culture to stereotypes at the expense of cheap laughs. These themes include ‘White Trash,’ ‘Ghetto,’ and ‘Pimps and Hoes.’ While these themes are by no means exclusive to the Cornell campus, some students say such themes represent a bigger problem.

According to Tania Penafort ’08, who spoke at the rally, while Cornell students may not be engaging in outright racism, ‘apathetic racism’ is equally as damaging. By engaging these themes at parties, “the division between privileged and underprivileged becomes more apparent,” she said. “The privileged victimize these groups for their entertainment, but those that are not [privileged] have to live with the consequences. Don’t dress up as something you don’t understand. It is degrading for someone to dress up as pregnant Latina and not understand what she has gone through.”

“If we’re serious about stopping the violence, we’ve got to do our job,” said Justin Davis ’07 president of Black Students Union. “Fraternities and sororities are supposed to be bastions of society and you’re telling me it’s OK that someone dress up in blackface and have no one do anything about it?” he continued.

Many of the speakers commented that the party atmosphere is especially conducive to violence since alcohol is involved. Combined with negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media, the possibility for violence becomes an even bigger threat.

According to the event’s press release, “Such subtle acts of oppression can lead to more blatant events such as the stabbing of Charles Holiday by a White student on Cornell’s Campus last year.”

Kent Hubbell, dean of students, who attended the rally, said the rally alerts the administration to a problem they must resolve.

Hubbell is “hopeful students and the administration will enter into a substantive dialogue eliminating demeaning activity.” He added, “We need to redouble our efforts to make Cornell home to all students.”

Travis Apgar, associate dean of students, who oversees fraternity and sorority affairs, explained that these parties are only a piece of the problem when trying to make Cornell friendly to diversity.

“We will be taking action and opening up dialogue. We are going to be developing a policy that encompasses the spirit of diversity, but it is going to take time,” he said.

Davis highlighted the importance of attention to the issue due to the large size of Cornell’s Greek community.

“There is a dynamic of racism that occurs not only from group to group, but within groups as well. With 30 percent of the campus involved in Greek life, the University cannot afford to ignore this issue if it wants to claim itself as diversity friendly,” Davis said.

Organizers circulated a petition throughout the crowd asking the administration and Greek life organizations including the InterFraternity Council, the Multicultural Greek Letter Council and the Pan-Hellenic Association to officially ban racially-themed parties.

According to some speakers at the event, two more parties are planned with racist themes within the next month.

Not all students present at the rally thought the speakers accurately described Cornell fraternity parties.

Lance Polivy ’08, executive vice president of InterFraternity Council, who also attended the event, stressed that “Racism is not tolerated in the Cornell Greek community. The rally brought some valid concerns to light, and we look forward to further exploring these issues not only within our system, but alongside the rest of the Cornell community as a whole.”

  • Charles P

    This article is very one sided and is aimed solely at the Greek community. As a member from another fraternity on another campus I do not think that this article is a fair representation of the whole story. I did not find anywhere in this article an opinion from a fraternity or sorority member except at the end. If this article is to be fair, than there needs to be both sides of the story told. The writer of this article makes it seem like every student is appalled at these supposed accusations. If this is true than she needs to interview other people who are white too. I hope that the people interviewed really got their facts correct before they started making statements that could be false in nature. I think it may be correct that these people made statements on hearsay accusations. If SAE or Lambda Chi had a party that was “violent” in nature than they are wrong and this rally was necessary, but what these fraternities did did not pose a violent threat. I am really having a hard time seeing what is so bad about what these men did. The people they were imitating were people from foreign countries. If all of these people have such a problem, than they need to watch the movie Borat. What these guys did was just a joke, it was a party theme. If they were performing a lynching or beating people up, than we might want to take it seriously. These people need to get thicker skin and quit crying so much and looking for excuses to make claims of racism. Life is not fair, but this America. The country were you can express yourself anyway you want to. Also, I think that it is important to realize that Greeks are the ones who generally do the most good in the college community. They are constantly raising money for charities and other worthy causes. I will probably bet that the students who made these claims do not realize how much good fraternities and sororities do. They want to place a label on what they are not a part of.

  • Dan

    (I’m the Dan that posted first, not the one talking about 1st amendment rights)

    As one of those included in what you described as six people who “know little about the depths of white privilege and white normativity,” I feel the need to respond to your comment. I believe that the rally organizers are supporting a good cause but going about it very badly. It’s easy to see that on the Cornell campus there is a lack of understanding about oppression and white privilege. I’m willing to admit that I occasionally don’t think enough about what I’m doing or saying and become guilty of this myself. However, I thought a lot about this case. You absolutely have a cause that is worth fighting for but the rally organizers are going about it in a terrible way.

    My biggest problem with this situation is that a “South of the Border” party and a “Tacos and Tequila” party are being lumped together with a party that encouraged people to dress up as Black stereotypes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In my opinion, that is an inherently offensive party theme and should not be allowed under any circumstances. However, there is nothing inherently racist about a “South of the Border” party or a “Tacos and Tequila” party. I don’t know any details of the “Tacos and Tequila” party, but there was nothing racist and nothing that stereotyped Mexicans at the actual “South of the Border” party. Everybody was wearing typical clothes and nobody was mocking Mexican culture in the slightest. There was a Mexican flag and streamers and people were enjoying Mexican beers while dancing to bad popular music.

    The whole controversy over the party occurred because of the Facebook event invitation which contained what I would consider an offensive joke about dressing up as Mexicans and immigrating to the U.S. It was replaced with an apology and a statement that tried to get the message across that everybody was welcome to have a good time at the party. It was never meant to be taken seriously and at no point was the party supposed to be one in which people came dressed up as Mexican stereotypes. The rally organizers must have thought that this was the case because I don’t see how anybody could possibly think that the party as I described it is offensive. A “South of the Border” party does not inherently mock Mexican culture and is not inherently racist. It can easily be made into a racist event, but it wasn’t and the rally organizers keep implying that it was. A “Tacos and Tequila” party is not racist if it’s just a bunch of people sitting around drinking tequila and eating tacos. The rally organizers are not making this distinction and that is why so few are supporting them. They are essentially saying that any time you base a party around an ethnic theme, it is inherently racist. I don’t believe that and that’s the only reason why I don’t support your rally.

  • Joey

    As member of the Greek community, I find too much irony in this rally for it to be effective. While the rallying organizations are fighting racism and stereotyping, they are participating in these acts themselves. They point out Fraternity members as being ‘privileged’ and not understanding of the struggles the ‘underprivileged’ have endured. I do not consider myself privileged. In fact, the majority of the members in my fraternity are not the well-off caucasians that the rallying organizations have labeled us as. If a group wants to put an end to stereotyping, they shouldn’t participate in a rally that condones it.

    Additionally, I do not find any of the parties to be racist in any way whatsoever. I was at the SAE party. They had pinatas, sombreros, and some sand around a table. If that is racism, my 6 year old cousin was committing racist acts at her last birthday party. As mentioned in many articles above, there is a distinct line between celebrating a country/culture and making a mockery of one. In the 3 years I’ve been at Cornell, I cannot recall any themed party that has done the latter.

  • Eli

    True, a party is just a party. The case is, to open minded to this debate, the guy who talked about “ohh its so much better being white” has already closed his mind. When you view everything from above, we are all the same people, so stop whining about your different plights. And no, I have no racism in me, I am not anyone special, I am content(or on the way there). Of course, racism is defined differently for everyone, so its impossible to argue what is racist and what’s not, although there are some obvious beacons.

    And mainstream? Maybe the people who are “mainstream” are just a collection of personalities that you don’t like, so make you’re own “stream” and call it whatever you want. It’s very true that many people behave incorrectly and rudely, but if you don’t like how someone acts at a fraternity party, go out with your own friends somewhere else and have fun instead of complaining. Remember that silly high school phrase “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind?” Case in point.

  • steve g

    First off, I’m Mexican-American. So that said, I have one question, were there actually drunk and/or sober white guys dressed up as immigrants, mexicans, federales, etc. at the party? The article mentions that the protest featured pictures of such, but I don’t know if those were pictures taken at the party or just some random photos for the protesting students to make a point. If they were the former, then I’d be extremely pist off. If its the latter, and the only “Mexican” images found at the party were green, white, and red streamers and flags and Mexican alcohol, as was all I heard, then the protesters need to chill, because I would’ve been at the party myself if I could.

  • Alec

    This is stupid. It really, really is. Protestors: Having lived in DC, I’ve met more than my fair share of your kind. I used to be one even. What drove me was that I was insecure and felt completely out of control of my life and rallying for any cause and making myself heard made me feel like I was involved in something. I know for a fact that that’s the way many of you feel right now. Its really kind of pathetic. If you’re going to make an effective argument against an institution, at least know something about it. In this particular case, say, knowing the Greek alphabet might have helped (several protestors couldn’t even name the greek letters of the houses that they were protesting). For the love of God, consider getting a legitimate hobby.

    Grow up and if yo MUST find something to fight about, make it something worthwhile.

    It’s like there’s this force and counter-force. Some people know how to actually have a good time, and then there’s the people who have a good time by protesting the first group.