The actions of a Phi Gamma Delta member at a date night Saturday drew swift condemnation from Penn’s Asian-American community over the weekend.
At the date night for Phi Gamma Delta, commonly known as FIJI, a fraternity member and his date called their beer pong team “VietPong.” They dressed in camouflage gear with war paint on their cheeks, according to pictures of the party later posted to Instagram and acquired by The Daily Pennsylvanian.
The Asian Pacific Student Coalition and Vietnamese Student Association decried the actions of the FIJI member, who the DP has chosen not to name because he has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing, and his date.
College senior and President of the VSA Nicole Phan issued a statement to the DP on Sunday that said the name “VietPong” reflected insensitivity and ignorance of the history and identity of the Vietnamese community.
“VietPong” is a reference to the Viet Cong, a guerrilla army that aligned with North Vietnam and against the United States during the Vietnam War.
“The political background and attire associated with the Viet Cong should not be treated as a joke and adorned so casually,” Phan said. “The ignorance of our history is representative of the overarching issue of stereotyping and misrepresenting the Asian community without consequences.”
The fraternity member wrote a letter to APSC expressing regret for his actions and stressing that his behavior should not reflect on the fraternity as a whole. The letter was later shared with the VSA.
President of FIJI and Wharton and Engineering senior Connor Swords also said in an emailed statement to the DP that the team name was an independent choice that reflected a member’s lack of awareness.
“The team name was not made with any malicious intent and arose due to the involved brother’s lack of understanding,” Swords said. “We apologize that our brother’s actions marginalized API students and the larger Penn community.”
The FIJI fraternity member involved in the incident declined to comment.
This is not the first time a fraternity brother’s actions have caused discord between greek organizations and the Asian-American community. Members of off-campus organization during an incident from Spring Fling in 2015.
Phan said such an incident should not be considered isolated since it reflects greater issues within campus culture, especially given the current political and social climate in the United States.
“In such a racially tense period, such an occurrence on this campus only reminds minority communities and people of color that they are marginalized,” Phan said. “This incident highlights the lack of progressive thinking on our campus and goes to show that our campus still has a far ways to go.”
Chair of APSC and Wharton junior Yen-Yen Gao echoed the concerns voiced by the VSA in an interview with the DP, adding that while she appreciated the fact that the FIJI member immediately issued an apology to the Asian-American community, she still questions whether the brother fully understands the implications of his actions.
“Yes, in their apology letter to us they said they realize there are significant historical implications but I question if they actually do,” Gao said. “I question if they had realized this or if they had known. If they had, they wouldn’t have even considered it.”
Gao also said she expects Penn students, faculty and staff to take notice of the racial insensitivity experienced by Asian-American students at Penn. She said she feels as though, to some extent, people do not consider it wrong to mock Asian minority groups.
“I would like to see the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life reaction to this and what measures they are going to bring,” Gao said. “APIs are not a safe minority to mock. If you are an API on campus and you experience these racially offensive and insensitive instances then you have to bring them up.”
Director of OFSL Eddie Banks-Crosson said in an emailed statement that his office was disturbed by the incident and condemned such incidents of racial insensitivity in greek life.
“We are deeply troubled by this incident,” Banks-Crosson said. “This was not a registered event. This behavior has no place in Greek life at Penn and is not an adequate reflection of who we are.”
The United Minorities Council said in a Facebook post Tuesday that the group "stands in solidarity" with VSA and other affected groups:
Moving forward, Gao said she plans to call out incidents that involve racial or cultural insensitivity toward Asian people.
“I think the most effective strategy for us right now is to push back hard when incidents such as this occur to educate the wider Penn community why these actions, comments, jokes, etc. are not funny and are incredibly offensive,” Gao said. “Hopefully through building a strong voice for the APSC community, this will encourage more people to come out to our events to learn more about API issues and cultures.”
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