March 8, 2004

Party Creates Controversy

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Two weekends ago, a fraternity member coming from a Zeta Beta Tau “Ghetto Fabulous” party was reported to the Interfraternity Council as having enacted “apparent disrespectful stereotypes regarding people of color,” according to an IFC statement released last Wednesday and a source close to the situation.

“The IFC would like to reinforce that it does not sponsor, endorse, or support such events or attitudes. The IFC agrees that such events and their coinciding way of thinking have no place within the Greek community or the University as a whole,” the statement continued.

In another statement addressed to the Cornell community, Leo Pedraza, the assistant dean of Fraternity and Sorority affairs, said that the chapter will have a Bias Incident hearing on March 10 before the IFC Judicial Board.

“Ghetto Fabulous” parties have become a traditional staple among many fraternities and sororities, and various students cited five parties as having had that theme during the past three weeks, though one fraternity leader deflected criticism citing their party as a “rapper” themed event.

Pedraza also addressed the circulating rumor that a fraternity member showed up in “blackface” to the party, noting that the Bias Incident report made no reference to such an event. The rumor had been circulating amongst fraternity and sorority leaders, and had been posted to the Black Students United electronic list.

Jeff Massa ’05, president of the IFC, also said that he felt the blackface incident was no more than a rumor. “None of the evidence that has come in to our Judicial Board as pointed to the fact that people painted their faces,” he said. “This is a rumor that has been circulating around campus that I feel is most likely not true.”

In a brief written statement to The Sun, Zeta Beta Tau denied any wrongdoing. “ZBT completely supports Cornell University’s mission to prevent discriminatory activities in the Greek system. At no point in time has ZBT ever condoned or conducted any activities that conflict with this mission, which is why we vehemently deny any wrongdoing in this respect,” the statement read.

One sorority member in attendance at the party, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that party-goers wore traditional rapper clothing but otherwise it was a “normal party.” “It was the clothes people wore; it wasn’t really anything ‘ghetto,'” she said.

Others in attendance declined comment, citing IFC and administrative requests that the issue not be discussed, pending the full investigation’s results.

Toby Lewis ’05, the Student Assembly liaison for minority affairs, and Prof. Robert Harris, Africana studies, vice provost for diversity and faculty development, both declined comment citing lack of hard information on the issue. Harris did add, however, that all of the major Greek organizations had issued statements condemning prejudice.

“In each instance, the students have condemned stereotyping different cultures and have affirmed their commitment to a diverse and multi-cultural campus free of bias,” he said.

Funa Maduka ’04, student trustee agreed.

“I think it’s an unfortunate situation, but I’m glad the councils and the university are working together to get this resolved, even while it is still in the judicial process,” she said.

She added that the African-American student community is in many ways waiting for the IFC’s verdict before reacting. “Nobody really knows what’s going on, nobody really knows what facts are facts and what rumors are rumors,” she said.

That uncertainty has frustrated many, including several members of involved sororities and fraternities who were told that talking about the matter was forbidden. One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the University administration had guaranteed the matter, especially the names of the involved Greek organizations and their members, would remain closed to the public.

Despite the current controversy and confusion as to what exactly happened, many feel that some good can come of this. “I think the key thing that has come out of this is discussion,” Maduka said.

As the investigation into the event continues, the IFC has vowed “to ensure its member chapters are sensitized to and educated on the detrimental effects of negative stereotyping, and will enact legislation explicitly identifying such themes as contradictory to the ideology of the Greek Community.”

Archived article by Michael Morisy