Wednesday, December 11

Editorial: Greek life must do more to address racism


Scandals and their impact on the campus community should outlive the news cycle.

Last October, members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Alpha Phi sorority dressed in baggy clothes, plumped lips and padded bottoms for a “Kanye Western”-themed raid. Pictures circulated around social media, leading students to gather to protest the racially insensitive outfits.

A year has since passed. While the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Relations has announced a few policy changes, the incident is largely forgotten. To date, nothing substantial has been implemented to address the underlying problems that brought about the controversial raid.

Notable in the “Kanye Western” incident was the fact that the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Relations did not approve the theme beforehand in accordance with university rules. In a statement from Sigma Phi Epsilon, the fraternity apologized for any offense and explained that their costumes had no racial slant. The statement denied accusations that some students had appeared in blackface, claiming they were dressed as miners to reference Kanye West’s song “Gold Digger.”

[Column: UCLA’s lack of cultural sensitivity led to “Kanye Western” raid]

The party sparked less unanimous outrage compared to more explicitly racist scandals plaguing fraternities across the country. However, all members of Greek life must make a conscious effort to recognize that these scandals are not just misunderstandings, and do more to implement safeguards to prevent future missteps than what has been accomplished in the past year. The raid was an example of Greek Bruins’ blatant disregard for their peers, insensitively using unaddressed stereotypes for entertainment. The use of stereotypes to fuel social rituals is by no means exclusive to Greek life, but is worryingly endemic in the sprawling social organizations affiliated with and sponsored by the university.

The “Kanye Western” raid was not the only public revelation at UCLA last year that Greek life can and must make a better effort to examine its actions. In May, an undergraduate student government member released Pi Kappa Phi meeting minutes from 2013 containing racist and misogynistic comments. The comments were documented under the regular heading “Racial Sensitivity” and often targeted a “Race of the Week,” making a mockery of Greek life’s supposedly regular diversity training.

The minutes showed that incidents like the “Kanye Western” raid are not isolated. They are a natural consequence of longstanding thoughtlessness at best and blatant racism at worst.

Moving forward requires more than preventing these stereotypes from being manifested. It requires members of Greek life to educate themselves and each other about how and why other students can feel uncomfortable seeing members of their organizations wearing costumes exaggerating another race’s stereotypical features, or making offensive jokes at a meeting.

It may no longer be news that these things happened, and they may even feel commonplace to some students. But apologizing and moving on isn’t fair to students whose identities are targeted – it doesn’t even count as a Band-Aid solution.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.

  • alpha1906

    If you want to read about campus racism, pick my new book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses. Written by this Bruin.

    • robman012

      Omg I can’t believe it’s you!

  • Loner Stoner

    In a perfect world, I’m all for racially insensitive jokes but not when everyone’s not in on the joke. And chapter meeting should be a semi-professional setting

  • Loner Stoner

    Alpha Phi and Sig ep were rightly punished. The focus on this is out of control though. Greek life has been and always will be under the spotlight, but it’s not the center or source of racism on campus. Sure, Greek organizations should be responsible for upholding values of acceptance tolerance compassion and equality. However, I find it would be more productive to address through a campus wide dialogue. We waste too much time on those who will always be ignorant and those who are looking to be offended. These individuals do not represent the entire Greek or black community at UCLA. We can’t excuse the people who showed up to the Kanye Western party dressed as “thugs,” but we also can’t validate the idea that dirty “gold miner/digger” faces and plump “kardashian” butts/lips are equivalent to black face. Otherwise, we miss the target and ignore the actual problems.

    • Lolwut

      It is in the interest of the Daily Bruin to cite the use of “blackface” at the admittedly ill-advised Kanye Western raid, because the Bruin was instrumental in propagating that bit of false information in the first place. Whether or not they purposefully facilitated the Afrikan Student Union’s fabrication of outrage over the matter is harder to say, of course. Either way, it certainly made for more compelling “news”.

      For the record, it really pains me to defend Greek life. However, this issue was opportunistically blown out of proportion to a ridiculous extreme. Even black student orgs at other campuses questioned the proportionality of the response. It was an insensitively, maybe even thoughtlessly themed event, not a KKK rally.

      Remember, too, that simply suppressing racist discourse isn’t going to change the minds of any racists. If we want to be serious about ending racism, we need to sell the case for equality, not force-feed it.