Parades. Dancing. Flags. All are part of Mexican Independence Day festivities.
But at Duke University, the Sigma Chi fraternity added fake expired green cards to the list -- and infuriated campus Latino groups in the process.
The crux of the debate involved promoting a Sept. 13 "Viva Mexico" party. The event, which was held at the chapter's house, was timed to correspond with Mexican Independence Day. Invitations consisted of green cards with the word "expired" emblazoned on the front, while flyers displayed an overweight Mexican man wearing a sombrero near beer bottles, said Cesar Aranguri, president of Duke's Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc.
A coalition of campus groups, including Mi Gente: La Asociaci¢n de Estudiantes Latinos, Lambda Upsilon Lambda, Lambda Pi Chi sorority and members of the university government have protested the fraternity's actions through a variety of venues, including letters to the Duke student newspaper and demonstrations.
"I was shocked" that students were offended, said Marc Mattioli, Duke's chapter president of Sigma Chi. "Our intention was not to offend anyone."
He said that only one person, who was unaffiliated with the fraternity and had seen a flyer for the event, had voiced concerns to the fraternity about it beforehand. The Latino members who participate in Mattioli's organization did not see a problem with the promotion, Mattioli added, noting that he is half Puerto Rican and the group's social chairman is half Colombian.
He said that the chapter has agreed to do educational programming and printed a letter of apology in The Chronicle, Duke's newspaper.
"The only good thing that has come of this is that we now have the opportunity for a deep and meaningful conversation" about multicultural issues, Assistant Dean of Students Todd Adams said.
Similar comments were made by Penn administrators in the wake of the Water Buffalo fiasco 10 years ago. Controversy over students' rights to free speech erupted in 1993 when then-College freshman Eden Jacobowitz was disciplined for calling a group of black sorority women "water buffalo," which was perceived as a racial slur.
Since then, the University has denounced speech codes and tries to prevent conflicts through education.
"We work with our groups a lot on diversity education," said Lea Shafer, associate director for programming at the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs.
So far, the preventative actions appear to have worked.
"The relationship here is great" with Greek organizations, added Annamaria Covo, director of La Casa Latina.
In addition to sparking campus-wide debate, the Duke fraternity has also run astray from the university's alcohol policies by advertising alcohol in flyers accessible to underage individuals, Adams said.
While student leaders argued in a press release that the fraternity violated the Duke Student Government Constitution by using ethnically offensive images, Adams noted that its community standard was not a statement of policy.
If such an event were to happen at Penn, officials say they would handle it as Duke has.
"It's not against any university policy, but it exhibits a certain amount of ignorance and close-mindedness," Director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Scott Reikofski said. Consequently, the fraternity will not be punished, but diversity education will be encouraged.
Since Duke's administration cannot sanction the fraternity for its offensive flyers, activists are trying to change the administration's policies.
"We're trying to reform the judiciary process" so that future offensive events will be punishable, Aranguri said.
"Generally, speech codes are impermissible" in a court, said Robert Shibley, a lawyer at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that supports free speech on campus. He added that they are looking into the Duke situation, but are not currently involved.
College freshman Jane Greenberg said she had not heard about the story from her friends at Duke.
"I might not be terribly surprised" if a similar event happened at Penn, she said, "but I haven't seen anything yet."Comments powered by Disqus
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