Guest column by Denzel Cummings, Abrina Hyatt, Abel McDaniels, Diana Cabrera, Katherine Mateo and Dawn Androphy | More than a theme, not just a costume
February 17, 2014, 5:43 pm · Updated April 24, 2014, 10:37 pm·
As six concerned members of the Penn community who strive to foster multicultural dialogue, we find the general trend of parties that serve to culturally objectify and vilify certain groups on campus deeply concerning.
Racial and ethnic minorities on campus, as well as those from lower-income backgrounds, face microaggressions on a daily basis, and it adds insult to injury when social organizations on Penn’s campus throw parties in which the “theme” is mocking a marginalized group.
We feel it is necessary to start a dialogue about these issues because if we remain apathetic about these microaggressions, they will continue and ultimately become worse. However, the purpose of this article is not to scold or rebuke any particular groups, but to start a dialogue about the misrepresentation and misappropriation that has been all too common on this campus throughout its history.
We have seen this story repeat itself and become all too common in peer institutions. Whether it be the “Pilgrims and Indians” party that was held at Duke two years ago or the “Conquistabros and Navajos” party that was held three years ago at Harvard, we have seen individuals continue this trend and also members of the student body at each of these schools speak out.
We have faced similar instances at our own campus. Events such as the canceled “Cinco De Febrero” party held by members of the Penn track and field team and the “Gangsta Party” hosted by the Beta Theta Pi fraternity with Chi Omega this weekend show that our campus is no more immune to these instances than any of our peer institutions.
Further, this problem extends to the trend of social organizations such as Theos, who hosted an annual “White Trash” party in a campus environment that already marginalizes lower-income students. Most of the people at Penn hosting and attending these themed parties have not experienced the actual realities of extreme poverty and living in an environment filled with gang violence.
These recent examples highlight a trend that has been going on in our university and on campuses across the country for years. Individuals in the Penn community should understand a clear fact: These parties mock certain cultures, people of lower-income status and/or people of color, ultimately dividing our campus. These parties also misrepresent the purpose of the organizations that hold them, some of which represent our university with pride and provide safety and refuge for students that find Penn to be home.
In all likelihood, many of the individuals who attended these events did not mean to express racial insensitivity nor misrepresent any group. Nevertheless, if we do not use these events as an opportunity to start a conversation, we neglect to explore the situation, learn what makes it wrong and stop perpetuating it. In the future, we hope that when instances like these arise, individuals may reconsider the negative outcomes of positive intent.
Further, for this dialogue to be a healthy one, we must be careful to not misrepresent or disrespect our peers on either side of the conversation in our attempts to solve these issues. It is not through anger or rage that we will stamp out these instances, but through dialogue and understanding.
If you see something, say something. If you find yourself turning a culture, ethnicity or other marginalized group into a costume or party theme, take a moment to check yourself and think about how your actions might affect members of the Penn community.
Denzel Cummings is a junior in the College and one of the co-chairs of UMOJA. Abrina Hyatt is a junior in the College and one of the co-chairs of UMOJA. Abel McDaniels is a sophomore in the College and the admissions chair of UMOJA. He is also a columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian. Diana Cabrera is a sophomore in the College and chair of the Latin@ Coalition. Katherine Mateo is a junior in the College and vice-chair of the Latin@ Coalition. She is also a member of Chi Omega. Dawn Androphy is a junior in the College and the chair of Lambda Alliance.