‘Nava-ho’ party was ignorant, investigation is no better

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Graphic by Bryce Snyder

Mustang News Editorial Board
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From the actions of greek life to those of campus administrators, the “Nava-hos” incident this past week showed some of the worst of our university to the world.

The organizations that held a “Colonial Bros and Nava-hos”-themed party earlier this month need to reevaluate of their judgment and sensitivity. Those who hosted the party need to own up to their mistake to everyone on campus, not just send their public relations director to apologize after being called out at a campus forum.

But Cal Poly also needs a reminder in its duties as part of the state government; free speech cannot fall by the wayside, even when students engage in ideas that are as insensitive as the fraternity party.

That’s not to say the actions of those greeks involved in the event are defendable. Though it’s been pointed out several times now, it is still important to say: Everyone, not just Native Americans, should be offended by the fact this party happened.

Men should be offended by it. Fraternity men, those who claim to be the top leaders on campus, took a cheap shot at women by exploiting their sexuality with a reference to the rape and slaughter of Native Americans. Those who thought it was OK to have this party poorly represent the men on campus who treat women with respect and recognize the gravity of what American colonials did to indigenous people.

To the men who participated in it, it was your responsibility to say something. For those of you who did not, your inaction created an environment at your university where all female students can be labeled as “hos,” simply for being women. That environment has now made local, national and international news, casting Cal Poly as a racist and immature campus to people far beyond San Luis Obispo.

Native Americans, of course, should reject what happened. As our editorial board contains no one of native descent, we’ll leave it Jennifer Rose Denetdale, an associate professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico and member of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission to say why. She wrote a response to the party published in Indian Country Today Media Network, a national newsmagazine for natives in the U.S.

“To invoke ‘Colonial Bros,’” she wrote, “is to refer to one of the most darkest moments in American history and certainly for the Navajo people, it is a reference to one of the most brutal, humiliating, and devastating experiences under American colonialism.

“To refer to the scantily clad women who came as ‘Nava-Hos’ is to not only diminish the Navajo people as whole, because the term connotes ‘whore’ and ‘prostitute’ and suggests that Navajo women were sexually available to the white soldiers; it says that it is not possible to rape or sexually assault Navajo women, because they are inherently rapable. ‘Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos’ is also a slander on Navajo women who have survived rape and sexual assault that was a part of conquest.”

And women need to take these events seriously, too. Yes, faculty from the Women and Gender Studies Department rightly called out greek life for its immaturity at an open forum Friday, but the outrage isn’t as widespread all over campus. In an online survey by Mustang News, the majority of responses defended the party. These “bros and hos” parties regularly draw hundreds of women — and they’re often from sororities.

Change in this area needs to come from a commitment by sorority leaders to discourage members from attending these parties. These leaders need to stop condoning their members as they label themselves as “hos” and “sluts” by attending these kinds of parties. How they choose to dress is irrelevant. Events with misogynistic titles alienate women who might otherwise attend.

And just as these leaders can express their own personal opinions, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong can do the same by denouncing this party as something that offends his own beliefs.

But using university resources to investigate and try to stop these parties is an absolute violation of students’ right to free speech.

In an email to campus telling students about this party, Armstrong and Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey said that “events like these have no place in the Cal Poly community.”

While the two might believe this, it isn’t true. Courts have ruled again and again that citizens — including those at universities — have a right to say what they want, even if it’s unpopular. Party themes can be tasteless; costumes can be objectifying. But unless students are targeted and lose access to state resources because of it, there’s no legal reason the state should stop that speech.

Based on what Cal Poly has released so far about why it is investigating — that some people found the party theme and dress “offensive” — the university should immediately drop its investigation.

In this case, it is appropriate for university leaders to call out the party’s hosts for their ignorance and immaturity in choosing this theme. They’d be correct in doing so. But as long as the First Amendment stands, it is not Cal Poly’s place to try to stop this act of free speech through the threat of investigation or punishment.

This represents the opinion of the Mustang News editorial board, which includes J.J. Jenkins, Carly Rickards, Sean McMinn and Olivia DeGennaro.

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