Last month, there was the infamous “Racist Rager” at Duke: An invitation with the opening “Herro, Nice Peopre!” was sent out for a frat party. The intricate and deeply layered cultures of an entire continent were reduced to a handful of painful caricatures.
Last semester, a sorority at Penn State hosted a so-called “Mexican fiesta,” where they took a picture of the sisters holding signs reading “Will Mow Lawn for Weed Beer” and “I Don’t Cut Grass, I Smoke It.” A whole ethnicity and heritage was turned into the butt of blatantly racist jokes.
Both incidents led to storms of outrage, and rightly so. These are obviously inappropriate and unacceptable, turning something beautiful and meaningful into something insulting and small. But this is the kind of thing that could never happen in a place like Penn. Here, we have a community that rallies together to denounce anti-Islamic ads. We are a community that unites to support Dephanie Jao through the entire sickening “Hunting for Asians” incident. We are a community that stands by our Africana professors when they protest lack of diversity in the university’s leadership.
We are a place of tolerance, appreciation of diversity and respect.
Except this Friday, when there is a party planned with the tagline, “Join the brothers of St. Elmo for a night of papal blasphemy. Let’s get sacrilegious in honor of Pope Francis, a true minister to the poor, the sick, and the blackout.”
Those two sentences are sacrilege enough, disrespecting not only a man of humility and charity who stands against the very debauchery that this organization is suggesting be done in his “honor,” but also insulting the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide who identify with the pope. A whole religious community is being openly mocked by people who we doubt have taken the time or effort to understand what kind of weight the election of a pope has. At least, we hope that the party planners don’t understand the value this event has in the hearts of Catholics. That way, we can believe that they are acting out of ignorance instead of malice.
Is this insulting? Yes, of course it is. This “Pope Party” is taking something as vast and joyous and meaningful as faith (whose impact on identity can be similar to that of culture or heritage) and reducing and degrading it into a tasteless joke. At its core, this party is disrespecting something that commands the highest respect: the feelings and identities of our fellow classmates.
Whatever your opinion on the Catholic Church, we hope that you can at least see the insensitivity this party presents to the part of our community that does identify with the pope. This is an issue not just for Catholics, but for all individuals who care about respecting the beliefs and identities of other human beings, regardless of whether that identity is based on race, nationality, orientation or yes, even on faith.
We are not trying to condemn the people who planned or are attending this party, and we’re certainly not trying to convert anybody. Penn’s strength lies in its diversity and in our ability to appreciate our differences. Despite our differences, however, we must be united by a common emphasis on respecting one another. We pray, alongside Pope Francis, “that there might be a great sense of brotherhood” in the Penn community and that we as a community continue in our united fight for diversity, inclusiveness and respect for each other.
Paulo Bautista is a Wharton junior and Ana Bautista is a Wharton freshman.