"Gangsta"-themed party sparks controversy on campus

Both Greek organizations who participated in the event issued statements.

· February 19, 2014, 8:10 pm   ·  Updated February 20, 2014, 1:54 am

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A mixer between Beta Theta Pi and Chi Omega over the weekend has sparked controversy on campus.

The party was an alleged “gangsta”-themed, closed mixer for members at an off-campus house. College junior and Beta president Daniel Zuvia would not confirm the specifics of the theme but said it was a “joint decision” between both of the organizations.

Across the country, controversial ethnic themed parties have spurred allegations of insensitivity on campuses. Responses have varied from chapters being closed to Greek organizations and individuals have issuing apologies.

At Penn, six members of minority student organizations - UMOJA, the Latin@ Coalition and the Lambda Alliance - voiced their concerns about ethnically themed parties in a guest column in The Daily Pennsylvanian earlier this week.

A petition was started by Ernest Owens, a College senior and former Daily Pennsylvanian board member, asking the University to “Investigate and look into the ... ‘Gangsta’ themed Mixer.” The petition currently has nearly 100 signatures.

“I’m really proud of Penn as a school, and it makes us look really bad with our relationship to the community,” College sophomore Klaudia Amenabar, who signed the petition, said.

Both groups issued statements regarding the event.

“Our chapter leadership is aware of this matter, and we are handling it privately and internally with our members,” Chi O president and Wharton junior Maria Guadagnino said in an email statement.

“This past weekend, an off-campus event took place in which members of our fraternity behaved in a manner that is not indicative of the values of Beta Theta Pi,” Zuvia said in an email statement.

“We are deeply sorry for our actions as they were insensitive and inappropriate. This was an unfortunate lapse in judgment, and we take full responsibility,” he said. “We are working with the University and our national organization to address the situation and make amends to the Penn community.”

It is difficult to ascertain the frequency of such parties on campus. Amenabar said she has heard of similar parties happening, but no specific instances. College senior Luis Vargas wrote a column about a “Cinco de Febrero” party that was also scheduled for this past weekend.

Zuvia declined to comment on whether culturally themed parties are generally common on campus.

Going forward, both Owens and Amenabar hope for cultural sensitivity or diversity training and policy changes. “Dialogue is important, but dialogue is not the only measure that should be taken at this point to address this issue,” Owens said.

While Director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life Scott Reikofski did not respond when asked if policy changes were in the works, Reikofski said in an email that OFSL works with Greek chapters regarding “responsible event planning and behavior” and that all members are made aware of Penn’s party registration system.

“In the event that Greek members or chapters are alleged to have held unregistered parties or committed other violations, the allegations are addressed by student judicial boards,” Reikofski said.

Reikofski said that chapters can also decide to take internal action and will work with their national organization to manage the situation.

Zuvia added that OFSL does have policies in place to regulate things like party themes, and the fraternity is working with the office to resolve this issue.

Similar controversies have arisen on other college campuses.

Two weeks ago, a fraternity at Duke University was suspended for throwing a party based on racial stereotypes of Asians. In January, a fraternity at Arizona State University was suspended after hosting a party for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, at which attendees wore basketball jerseys and drank from watermelon cups.

In some cases, colleges and universities have modified their policies in response to such controversies. Last week, Dartmouth College changed their policies about how Greek organizations handle complaints after a fraternity and sorority held a “Blood and Crips”-themed party last July, according to an article in The Dartmouth.

“There are a lot of people trying to make this about the Penn students, but it’s a much bigger issue than that,” Amenabar said.

Staff writer Melissa Lawford contributed reporting.

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