After an alleged hate crime during Spring Fling involving death threats and racial slurs, several students say they have opened an investigation with Special Services at the Division of Public Safety.
At 1:30 p.m. on April 17, the Vietnamese Students’ Association hosted a members-only barbecue at a house on 41st and Spruce streets. Members who were present described several groups of people walking by making racial gestures or rude comments directed toward them.
College senior Patrick Vinh, who was one of the students hosting the event, then said a student he identified as “an African American male wearing an OZ tank top” approached their porch and asked for a burger.
Vinh recalled asking the student — who was later correctly identified as a member of the underground fraternity OZ — to leave, telling him it was a closed event.
Vinh then claimed that the student, when asked to leave, was combative and he retaliated, saying, “Is it because I don’t look like you? I eat rice and watch anime, too.”
After the student left, the group claimed that they resumed their event. What they estimated to be 20-25 minutes later, the original student returned with a large group of other students.
The members then said the confrontation devolved into a “heated argument” involving racial slurs and threats.
“People were saying things like ‘f**k you chinks’ and other really horrible things,” College senior Bethany Cam said. She recalled that some students tried to climb onto their porch, and that people attending the barbecue formed a blockade to try to prevent non-members from entering the property. She said that a mob of people formed outside the house, all yelling and screaming at them.
She also recalled death threats. “People were saying, ‘We’ll kill you — you don’t belong here.’ There were maybe two or three guys chanting it,” Cam said. One of the other people there, she said, threw a cup of alcohol at them.
They remembered that the original student who approached them, noticeably more intoxicated, instigated the second confrontation, approaching the house and saying, “Remember me?”
The student they identified, however, denies that. “I passed the house again walking to another party. I was with a big group of people — some were OZ brothers, some weren’t — and I had no intention of approaching them or starting anything with them,” he said, though he admits that he doesn’t remember who started the altercation.
The student, who wished his name not be used, has a different account of what happened that day. He remembered passing the house for the first time on his way to a party on Pine Street, and said that he decided to approach them. “I’m a really social person, so I just wanted to hang out. I just wanted to sit on the porch and engage with them,” he said.
The student recalled that the hosts of the barbecue were not as polite as they claimed. “I didn’t know it was a closed event, but they were immediately really defensive. I was automatically kind of shooed away,” he said.
While he admitted he was drinking at the time and that he doesn’t remember exactly what words were exchanged, he said he remembered “making the anime comment.” While it was not meant to be malicious, he said, “I understand how ignorant it was; it was silly and should not have been said.”
The students attending the barbecue also admit to drinking, but claim that they were “not drinking as heavily” as the student they identified.
Cam said the student she identified both instigated the second, larger attack and was present for the entire time. She estimated that the later incident lasted about 10 minutes.
While the student admitted to being present for the second incident and to using foul language, he denied ever using racially charged language in that confrontation — only in the initial one. “Other people were saying things in relation to race, but I never did. I’m sure of that,” he said.
The student claimed that he was there for a few minutes, but left when things started to get heated.
Meanwhile, the students hosting the event have upheld that this was a racial attack on them and their culture. “It made a lot of people feel unsafe,” Vinh said.
“It pretty much ruined my Fling,” Cam said. “They were really saying that we didn’t belong here at this university as minorities.”
“The fact that this could happen, here, at an Ivy League institution, in 2015, is just unbelievable,” Vinh added.
After the incident, VSA sent out an email to its members identifying OZ and its members as the perpetrators. “We’re assuming they’re all OZ members because some of the others were also wearing OZ tanks,” Cam said.
The OZ student identified in the email, however, denied that the large group consisted of all OZ members.
The internal email also stated that “some of the senior members were present and felt personally attacked” and that they “would like to publicize this incident to the greater Penn community.”
“Asian Americans have always been stereotypically seen as the quieter, submissive group, which makes us more vulnerable to racial targeting and attacks like this one,” the email continued.
The implicated student, however, feels that he may also be the victim of racism in this incident. He admits to having initial contact with the group and to being present for some of the later incident, but thinks that he has been singularly pinpointed in this incident “because I’m the most easily identifiable person there,” he said. “I was the only African American there, and I was wearing an OZ tank.”
OZ found out about the email sent to the VSA listserv, which specifically identified both OZ and one of its members, when a student in VSA forwarded the email to an OZ member he has class with. When OZ’s board received the email on the morning of Wednesday, April 22, OZ President and Wharton junior Jonathan Copeland sent an email to their internal listserv.
“By signing a bid to this House, each of us becomes something larger than ourselves. Together, we become one. Our decisions reflect not only on us as individuals but also on OZ as a larger institution,” Copeland’s email read.
“THE NAME ON THE FRONT OF THE JERSEY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE NAME ON THE BACK,” it continued.
Copeland’s email also demanded that the brothers involved in the incident immediately step forward and admit their wrongdoing, saying that, “This is an executive order.”
“They know that their actions were not representative of us as an organization or our moral code,” Copeland said in an interview.
The original student implicated in VSA’s email issued a formal apology via an email that he sent to the students who hosted the event. The email, titled “An Apology on Behalf of OZ,” took responsibility for the incident.
“What occurred was not acceptable on my part or the other members of my house, and you did not deserve any form of harassment or degradation. I, and the members of our house who were involved in the exchange, are fundamentally at fault, and we realize that our behavior was unacceptable, unjust, and offensive,” the email said.
Since sending the email, the student said that he has not received a response, or responses to follow-up emails and phone calls.
The VSA members who received the email stated that they did not believe the apology was sincere. “It was clearly a political move on his part and on the part of OZ,” Vinh said. “Our priority is making our members feel safe again on campus,” he said.
The student who authored the email, however, denied that it was anything less than genuine. “I’m really really sad that that was their opinion,” he said. “I very much wanted to take responsibility for what I did and to start an open dialogue with them.”
The VSA students who hosted the barbecue have stated that while they as a campus group are not pursuing this incident further, some of the individual members are. They plan to investigate whether or not the incident qualifies as a hate crime. “We have spoken to [Pan-Asian American Community House], the Vice Provost’s Office, the Office of Student Conduct and several other organizations, all of whom have been very supportive,” Cam said.
OSC and DPS declined to comment, citing confidentiality reasons.
While they have not pressed charges, Cam said that they have opened an investigation with Special Services at DPS and that they will be reviewing traffic camera surveillance footage from that day this week. “Depending on what we find on the tape, we may press charges,” Cam said.
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