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.”
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.