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.”