How about just dressing like college students?

8 Feb

Oops, they did it again.

Yet another college fraternity has hosted a racial stereotype-themed party. The latest version: Kappa Sigma Asia Prime at Duke University. Kappa Sigma’s invitation e-mail opened, “Herro Nice Duke Peopre!!” and closed with a “Chank you” from the brothers (for an annotated copy of the e-mail, go to: http://archive.cdn.dukechronicle.com/KSig%20Emails.pdf).

As this particular story goes, the advertised party elicited not only protest but a bias incident report with the Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life, which led to a recommendation from the university that the fraternity cancel the party.

Didn’t happen.

Instead, sneaky Kappa Sigma sent out this re-invite:

The Brothers of Kappa Sigma regret to inform you that our forebrothers’ secrets of the far east have not survived the move back onto campus. Without them, Asia Prime cannot go on and must be cancelled.

Instead, Kappa Sigma presents: International Relations. A celebration of all cultures and the diversity of Duke.

Here are pictures from the “celebration of all cultures and the diversity of Duke”:

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Posted by a group of student protestors including–but not limited to–members of the Asian Students Association, the fliers quickly became the focus of outrage.

Freshman Raffi Garnighian posted on Facebook Tuesday, “People with the fliers: you do realize most of the people in those pictures were NOT responsible for the party but just showed up. Nice job damaging reputations of random people, you’re [sic] group is a joke and should be dissolved at this point”

[Sophomore Emily Steemers also protested the protest, saying,] “I understand where [the students posting the fliers] are coming from, but I think their response was very emotional. Putting photos of these girls in public is unprofessional and condescending. I think they came across as very immature”  (http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/duke-kappa-sigma-party-ignites-firestorm-criticism).

Nice job blaming observers for other people’s actions, Raffi and Emily. Fortunately, Senior Tong Xiang has got this one. He responded to the complaint, noting:

… the photos were already available on Facebook… “We won’t apologize. The people in the photos not only participated in the racist imagery of the party but they also decided to publish those images themselves,” Xiang said. “They decided that they would post these photos on Facebook for thousands of people to see. We are not the publishers.”

Reading this article, I felt both familiar disappointment (this? again?? where’s a wall to bang my head against?)… and hope. I’m inspired and optimistic, reading how the protesting students at Duke handled the situations and themselves. Senior Ting-Ting Zhou framed the issue well, noting that the protest wasn’t about a frat party: it was about “the culture of acceptance at these kinds of things.”

Of course, there’s still work to be done, and plenty of it.

The university’s initial response was to “express disappointment” about the party. Go, Blue Devils.

According to the Duke Chronicle:

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta [initially] noted that no course of discipline is planned for members of the fraternity, because he does not believe a single punishment or memo will resolve the persistent racial stereotyping that has occurred at Duke social gatherings. He said he will continue to work with student leaders to help them understand that.

So let me get this straight: because racism is epidemic, we shouldn’t address specific incidents. We should just continue to talk about it and hope niceness wins the day?

While Moneta is right that “a single punishment” will not resolve racism, he is wrong in thinking that, therefore, punitive response is not part of the solution. We learn who we are and how to be in the world through our interactions with others. And when those others, particularly those charged with our well-being, respond to our racist words and actions with a “disappointed” memo, we learn how little racism matters and how little it costs us.

So we need to continue punishing acts of intolerance and hate, as long as we claim to stand against them. And, to Moneta’s point, we also need to do more than play an endless game of whack-a-mole, waiting at the ready with our mallets for the next racist incident to pop up. We need to proactively educate students about the things that will seem like a good idea but really aren’t, help them name and assess the challenges of standing up to friends who are denigrating others, equip them with tools and language to speak up and act on their values, and inform them of the consequences that even nice people have to face when they choose to act in a way that endorses and upholds racism.

In other words, we need to recognize that learning how to engage a diverse world is part of a student’s education, whether we choose to teach about it or not. We need to reconsider the institution’s responsibility to teach students about antiracism, and discern our opportunities on the individual, community and institutional levels to educate, model and continuously strive for inclusion and equity.

Fortunately, Moneta seems to have listened and learned from his students, and “the operations of the Eta Prime chapter of Kappa Sigma fraternity have been suspended.” Again. That’s right. The fraternity has only been back on campus for 9 months, after losing their charter 10 years ago. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on Duke?

** Thanks to KM for the heads up.

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