A woman allegedly shouted a racist remark at a Wharton freshman in Huntsman Hall on Feb. 2 while another woman filmed the incident on her cell phone. The freshman, who identifies as Mexican-American, said the woman repeatedly shouted "Build a wall."
The freshman said he has since reported the incident to the Office of Student Conduct. OSC Director Julie Nettleton declined to comment in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. On Feb. 5, she wrote, "I am sorry but the Office of Student Conduct does not comment on incidents or cases, whether we are involved or not."
"We take this allegation seriously and are supporting the student as we look into the matter," Provost Wendell Pritchett said in a statement.
The woman was with four to five other women when the incident took place, the freshman said, noting that one other woman in the group was wearing a white, long-sleeved shirt. He said he was "almost certain" the shirt had the letters or Greek symbols of Penn's Kappa Alpha Theta sorority chapter.
At approximately 6 p.m., the Wharton freshman approached the escalator from the second floor of Huntsman, as the women descended the escalator. One of the women shouted "I love Donald Trump" two times and shouted "Build a wall" several times, he said. He added that the woman was looking directly at him while shouting about Trump.
A woman in the group was recording the incident on her cell phone, the freshman said, leading him to believe the action was part of the sorority's hazing process.
"They were getting hazed," he said. "It just doesn't make sense that someone's going to record it. Why would they record it?"
The president of Penn's Kappa Alpha Theta chapter declined to comment on the story because, she said, the national sorority rules prohibit her from making statements to the press on behalf of the chapter.
Kappa Alpha Theta Director of Communications Liz Rinck did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Wharton freshman said he emailed a description of the incident to the OSC's general email account Saturday night, a few hours after the incident occurred. The Wharton freshman added that he hopes the Office will examine video footage in Huntsman Hall to identify the group of women.
"That's the only way to officially prove who they are and what they said if there is sound," the Wharton freshman said.
Later, at 7:40 p.m., he posted a message in "Penn '22," the class-wide group chat on GroupMe, describing what had happened to him.
"To the six WHITE Theta girls who shouted at me 'build the wall.' I hate u all," his GroupMe message read.
The freshman said he received apologies on Facebook messenger Saturday night from three Theta members, none of whom were allegedly directly involved in the incident. The freshman knew the three women beforehand and was able to conclude they were not part of the incident. They apologized on behalf of the pledge class and on behalf of the sorority.
The president of Penn's Kappa Alpha Theta chapter also sent Facebook messages apologizing to the student on behalf of the sorority Sunday evening.
"I wanted to let you know that I heard about what happened and I am so incredibly sorry on behalf of my entire sorority," she wrote in the message. "We would NEVER endorse racially charged shouts and I think it's important that you know that whoever said those horrible things to you were not acting on instructions they had received from anyone in the sorority. I still am not sure who said it but I am taking this very seriously."
"I sincerely hope these girls weren't members of our sorority but again, I am so very sorry if they were," she wrote.
Early Monday morning, the Wharton freshman sent a subsequent message to the "Penn '22" group apologizing for naming Theta "without being 100% certain."
He told the DP, however, that he is confident that the women were part of Theta. He added that he sent the second message in the GroupMe chat because he wanted indisputable proof, such as video footage, to validate his claim before accusing Theta members.
Latinx Coalition External Affairs Chair and College junior Cinthia Ibarra said the woman's comments were "a blatant act of disrespect toward this particular student, and not just the student, but for the general Mexican population on this campus.”
Ibarra, who is also the Community Outreach Chair for MEChA de Penn, added that she has contacted other board members on the Latinx Coalition and MEChA about the incident and has contacted Penn's 6B, the main minority coalition groups on campus.
“It’s in moments like these that we need to be outspoken, when we need to have tangible support from administration and repercussions so to avoid future occurrences of similar acts of hate or discrimination,” Ibarra said.
The Wharton freshman said he believes in freedom of speech and understands that people have their own beliefs, however, he said the incident made him uncomfortable.
“It just made me feel unwelcome and made me feel that maybe I didn’t belong here because I’m from another ethnicity,” the Wharton freshman said.
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