Party brings debate to campus, leaves greeks on edge

Graphic by Carly Rickards

In a Mustang News survey, 91 people anonymously answered, “In one sentence, describe how you feel about Cal Poly investigating a fraternity party deemed ‘offensive’ to Native Americans and women.” The above quotes are a selection of those responses.

Sean McMinn

A Thanksgiving-party-gone-wrong left some fraternities and sororities under investigation this week and opened a discussion at Cal Poly about the university’s role in regulating off-campus behavior.

The Office of the Cal Poly Dean of Students began investigating at least three greek organizations for a colonial and Native American-themed party held near campus this past weekend, opening the door for charges of harassment and intimidation, Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey said. More organizations are expected to be added to the list of those under investigation, he said.

The university is not releasing the names of the groups under investigation until they face disciplinary action, per a decision between Humphrey and Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong made Tuesday.

But an email sent from the Cal Poly Diversity Coalition on Wednesday identified the host and theme of the party, though the university denied its sender — political science department chair and Diversity Coalition Steering Committee member Jean Williams — based the email on official knowledge of the investigation.

“We’ve been receiving many questions about the incident,” Williams wrote in an email to the coalition obtained by Mustang News. “As we understand it, last weekend the fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa hosted a party that they called ‘Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos.’”

Phi Sigma Kappa President and civil engineering senior Andrew Gulbronson declined to comment on his fraternity’s alleged involvement with the party Wednesday, but said he was, “made aware of the investigation and am working with the university on that.”

When contacted by Mustang News, Williams declined to comment on how the Cal Poly Diversity Coalition learned of the information contained in her email, which included six co-signors.

Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier said the email was sent without the approval of Dean of Students Jean DeCosta or Humphrey. After learning of the email, DeCosta contacted Williams to tell her the information it contained remained unconfirmed by the university, Lazier said.

“It sounds to me like the diversity folks maybe got a little bit ahead of themselves,” he said. “The investigation through the dean of students’ office is still going on. Right now, they are not 100 percent certain who was behind the event, so we are not sure who was responsible.”

Based on initial reports from neighbors near the party — which Humphrey said was in the area behind the Cal Poly Health Center — approximately 75 to 100 students wore “offensive” costumes. Those neighbors complained to the Cal Poly Dean of Students, telling Cal Poly officials the men were dressed in colonial attire and women came as “sexually explicit” Native Americans.

A group of Native American faculty also came to student affairs officials Monday and complained about the party, Humphrey said.

Themes like these are not unique to greek life at Cal Poly. Some “offensive” party themes at other schools were deemed so controversial, national media outlets reported on the stories.

Duke University’s Pi Kappa Phi hosted a “Pilgrims and Indians” party during the holiday season of 2011. A guest column in The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, brought national attention to the incident.

But the party that received the most attention on Duke’s campus was Kappa Sigma’s “Asia Prime” theme, which was renamed as “International Relations.” Despite the name change, the basic idea of the theme remained the same, and students came in stereotypical Asian attire.

“I’ve been at Duke for 20 years, and I’ve seen this happen every few years,” Orin Starn, chair of the cultural anthropology department, said in a different article in The Chronicle.

Pi Kappa Phi changed their policy of choosing party themes and now collaborates with other members and sororities they mix with — as opposed to a single individual — to be more appropriate in their theme choice.

Another event that grabbed national headlines was Penn State’s Mexican-themed sorority party by Chi Omega. A picture of a group of girls went viral online, showing them with signs saying, “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it,” and “Will mow lawn for weed + beer.”

Chi Omega’s national president apologized for the chapter’s behavior.

At Cal Poly, some disagreed with administrators’ handling of this past weekend’s party when they learned of the Dean of Students’ investigation.

In online comments on MustangNews.net, some in the Cal Poly community debated the university’s response and its implications for free speech.

“Would it still be completely offensive and absolutely unacceptable at our institution if it was just a “Thanksgiving Party” yet everyone dressed in the same scant Native American costumes?” one commenter asked.

“This event falls under Free Speech and Free Expression. Free Speech and Free Expression do not go out the window when someone is ‘offended,’” wrote another.

In an email to campus Monday, Humphrey and Armstrong decried the party, saying there is no place for events like it in the Cal Poly community.

“It’s very serious,” Humphrey said in an interview after sending the campuswide email. “I think its effects on our community are things we can’t even fully put our arms around, and that’s what makes it very disturbing. And we don’t know who something like this will offend, and they’ll choose to never come to Cal Poly, choose to not send their children to Cal Poly.”

Fraternities and sororities will be required to register all parties with the university beginning next quarter as part of an agreement earlier this year to loosen recruitment restrictions in exchange for tighter oversight of greek functions.

Humphrey said there is no pressure to speed up that process after this past weekend’s incident, but added that a party registration system could have prevented it from happening.

Cal Poly will hold a forum Friday to discuss racism and sexism. Lazier, Cal Poly’s spokesperson, said it will address the party under investigation, as well as broader cultural issues on campus.

Sara Natividad contributed to this story.

  • republican24

    Geeds > Sean McMinn

    • Jason Goad

      I don’t know why you’re attacking the author in every one of his articles about this… He’s just reporting.

  • Guest

    Lets be honest here, yes the party was badly themed and insensitive. But this is just going to be another front for Humphrey to try and get more of the greek organizations on probation. A party like this deserves the punishment of mandated cultural studies class or seminars, community service for the effected ethnic group, and a presentation to the greek community on the harmful affects of stereotypes. But the punishment is going to be social probation because Humphrey doesn’t care about the stereotypical portrayal of native americans. That is just his excuse to try and put more greeks on probation.

  • Biker

    “Those neighbors complained to the Cal Poly Dean of Students, telling Cal
    Poly officials the men were dressed in colonial attire and women came
    as “sexually explicit” Native Americans.”

    OK … let’s see. As long as we are drawing lines about what is offensive and what isn’t, here are some sample college party college themes from http://collegepartyguru.com/themes/ :

    Black out or Get Out: Based on the notion that one should drink until they pass out. People’s lives are ruined every day by alcoholism. I’m outraged.

    CEOs and Office Hoes: I work in an office, and don’t appreciate the sexification of women in the workplace. I’m offended.

    Crossdress Party: This makes light of people’s sexual preferences. I’m offended.

    End of the World: This is a serious matter. I’m offended.

    GI Joes and Army Hoes: These people defend our country. I’m offended.

    High School Stereotypes: People can’t help what they are. I’m offended.

    King Tuts & Egyptian Sluts: This one is too easy. Of course, I’m offended.

    Lawyer Bros and Prison Hoes: I’m a lawyer. I’m offended.

    Lifeguard Bros and Surfer Hoes: I’m a surfer. I’m offended.

    Luck of the Irish: I have Irish friends, and I’m offended by the stereotype.

    Nerd Party: I’m a nerd. I’m offended by the stereotype.

    Pimps and Hoes: Prostitution = victimization of both the prostitutes and their customers. I’m offended.

    Pirates and Wenches: Wenches? Seriously? I’m offended.

    White Trash: I’m white. I’m offended.

    Yoga Hoes and Workout Bros: Objectifying women athletes as hoes … I’m offended.

    Any costume in which women dress in sexually revealing clothes (pretty much ANY costume party with women under 30): I’m offended.

    Maybe it’s best to cancel parties altogether and force the women to dress in burkas? That way, the only thing offended are people’s sense of humor and their right to free expression?

    • xstorytimex

      A theme can be done well as much as it can be done crudely. The problem is not the subject matter but instead what students did. Those who were in charge were not able to monitor their party ghosts behavior in a way that protected California Poly’s reputation. The attack is not on free speech but instead on students being incredibly culturally insensitive. Listing 15 college party themes means nothing except that a party could be terribly insensitive. If you want to express your views of women should look slutty to fit in or how you may think that Native Americans are just feather wearing, red streaked with a walking sick, go ahead. Do it in support of your beliefs, and stop trying to portray it as something something cool. To many people culture is a serious matter. So are the problems we face every day. If you want to be serious, fine. If you just want to have fun, go have fun doing something else. Maybe party without a theme or treat your theme with the execution that support togetherness rather alienation and stereotypes. Celebrate the culture. Do not deface just it for fun. There are millions of ways to have fun. Defacing a culture should not be one of them. You are doing more harm than you think. If know exactly how much harm you are doing , I have nothing left to say.

      • Biker

        “The attack is not on free speech but instead on students being incredibly culturally insensitive”:

        See above. “Culturally insensitive” is in the eye of the beholder.

        “If you want to express your views of women should look slutty to fit in”:

        I don’t. But I think they should be able to dress slutty if they want.

        “If you just want to have fun, go have fun doing something else. Maybe
        party without a theme or treat your theme with the execution that
        support togetherness rather alienation and stereotypes.”:

        Yes, lets all have a cultural sensitivity party. That will be a boatload of fun for all, I’m sure. I suppose you don’t support pub crawling on St. Paddy’s day?

        “You are doing more harm than you think. If know exactly how much harm you are doing , I have nothing left to say.”:

        I think you aren’t giving the students the credit they deserve. This is Cal Poly … a school where academic excellence is the norm, and the students have already taken all kinds of AP and honors courses to get there. The title of the party itself is tongue in cheek. Do you seriously think that they don’t know that the colonials had no contact whatsoever with the Navajo, or that all females are “Hoes”? If you saw the same skit on SNL, you’d be laughing. Why are the students held to a different standard?

        Have you ever given any thought to the notion that by considering a party to be culturally insensitive to one group, while the same sort of party not culturally insensitive to another, you are treating the groups differently, and in your words “doing more harm than you think”?

        I’m sorry, but while I think the party in question was culturally insensitive, I make the same conclusion about the others I’ve listed. The entire affair is blown entirely out of proportion.

        • http://youtube.com/welovenatnalex natlover4ever

          It’s offensive to dress up as another culture in a mocking way. I agree that there is no problem with women wanting to dress “slutty” but when you wear another culture’s dress as that kind of costume, it is worse. It’s sexualizing a racial group.

        • Padrote

          Who’s surprised? This is the same campus that brought us the crop house incident several years ago wherein racist epithets were in full display at another party that was actually ON campus. I suppose you think that was “tongue in cheek” too, and representative of “academic excellence”?

          The fact is that a large majority of the students at Cal Poly are white and entitled. They apparently have no problem exploiting other cultures and races for their own amusement.

          • Biker

            Nice of you to put the “majority” of Cal Poly students into such a convenient, tidy bag to support your own prejudices. I would suggest that statements like that are better evidence of your own prejudice than theirs.

            The crop house incident is a nice strawman, but that is not what we are discussing here. Or do you approve of the notion of using the sins of one group of students to punish another?

            I think a campus with students that pokes a little fun at all cultures (including their own) is a healthy, expressive one. One that suppresses free expression in the name of cultural sensitivity is not. These are adults here, not elementary school children.

            I’m not suggesting that the party was a great idea or that Native Americans shouldn’t have their say about it. They get their right to free-expression too. What I am suggesting is that the self-righteous indignation it has engendered in some is over the top.

          • Padrote

            Yes, we should poke a little fun at all cultures! Let’s have “pimps and hoes” college parties with people in blackface. That never happens, and that’s not ignorant at all, right? Let’s have Jihad parties where we dress in burkas and turbans. Think about how fun that would be to poke fun at Arabs!

            At least with regard to Native Americans, being that white people are the ones that have done all of the notable relevant oppression in the history of the United States, it’s ignorant to think that anyone making fun of white people is remotely close to the same thing as using culture of historically repressed people is remotely close to the same thing.

            The bottom line is that you should not assume it’s OK to exploit elements of another people’s culture for your entertainment whether you think it’s fun and cute or not, because you aren’t them.

          • Biker

            Your mistaken if you think that only white people have done the “notable” oppressing in this country. Oppression is something that all human beings are apt to do, whites and Native Americans alike. I assume you’re aware that the Apache were driven from their territory by the Comanche? That was certainly “notable” to the Apache … it’s just not widely known.

            See the list above. There are all kinds of groups, ethnic or otherwise that are and have been the subject of similar parties, and your sensitivity does not define the boundary of someone else’s right to free expression.

            My bottom line is different than yours. These are adult human beings who are well aware of the history of the oppression of Native Americans. And adult human beings have a right to free expression, and that includes Native Americans. I would stand up to their right to have a “the colonials massacred us” party if that was their desire.

            Finally, I would suggest that a better way of handling the dispute would be for someone to approach the frats having the party, express their concerns, and ask that they don’t do so in the future. My guess is that their request would be well received and do more for racial harmony than calling out the campus hounds.

          • Guest

            Padrote: that incident happened before any of the current students even attended Cal Poly, and was no way viewed as “tongue in cheek”. That incident was viewed as a hate crime and was across the board denounced by the community. Your generalizations are harmful to the rest of the Cal Poly community that is not in support of this event.

            And you just sound like a jerk.

    • Guest

      I’m pretty sure you could come up with inoffensive party themes that do not demean women or anyone’s culture. You just have to give it a little thought.

      • Biker

        As for women being demeaned, I would say if so many women are offended by the party theme, all they need to do is not attend … this is just a wild guess, but I’m thinking that would solve the problem pretty quickly.

        And as for whether what they are wearing demeans women, why does your sensitivity take precedence over another adult woman’s right to wear what the heck she wants? Who put you in the judgment seat?

        I’m not disputing that the party theme in question wasn’t culturally insensitive. What I’m suggesting is but one example of culturally insensitive party themes, and the response to it is way overblown.

  • Guest

    What is interesting about Humphrey’s standpoint is that they are requiring Sororities and Fraternities to register parties/give information to the administration yet Humphrey fails to mention how they are losing their advisor, resulting in no greek life advisor at all until January or later. How would these problems NOT come up when there isn’t even an advisor to oversee the organizations.

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  • john

    Just what we need, a fashion police state

  • duh

    What happened to freedom of speech and expression? What if I went to this party and dressed this way and honestly don’t care if I offended you? Political correctness has ruined this country and has gotten way out of hand. What’s next? Kids cant dress up for Halloween because they might offend someone? Give me a freaking break. Honestly the only people that should be offended by this are Native Americans, who have the right to be offended, but guess what… I get offended sometimes and I tend to get over it. What is the issue here? Is it the sexual representation of Indians? Hmm reminds me of the objectifying of woman that is so rampant in pop culture. Humor is almost always experienced at someone else’s expense. Get over it and focus on things that actually matter like the man running our country who has literally disgraced the office. Wake up and realize that not everyone in this world cares where your from, what you look like, or what you believe.

    • CamasBlues

      Going back to Columbus there is an ugly and brutal history of white men raping Native women. Even to this day, in 2013, Native American women have the highest rate of suffering sexual assault here in the United States. THIS SHIT DOES NOT HAPPEN IN A VACUUM.

      • Biker

        Perhaps it has something to do with the higher rate of alcoholism among Native Americans, not a culturally insensitive frat party?

        http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-4/233.pdf

        • CamasBlues

          Wrong, Biker. The overwhelming majority of the attackers are non-Native. The reasons are many and complex – you can read more about that here: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/women-s-rights/violence-against-women/maze-of-injustice

          The frat boiz attitude is just part and parcel of a much deeper problem that has gone on for centuries – negative views and prejudices against Natives.

          • Biker

            What does that have to do with whether alcohol was involved? The statistics are that alcohol is involved in about 30% of sexual assaults across the board.

            The US census puts Native Americans as being 1.2% of the population. That would lead me to believe that all things being equal, you would expect the vast majority of contact a Native American would have of any kind would involve someone of another race. Put another way, your statistics also would suggest that although they only represent 1.2% of the population, the Native-American attackers constitute 14% of the reported cases. You know what Disraeli said about statistics, I presume.

            Those same students you are referring to also grew up watching Pocohontas, Dances With Wolves, and any number of movies and other media that glorify Native American culture.

            The bottom line is that a frat party is a frat party. Look at the list above. They make fun of just about everyone. Virtually EVERY costume party I’ve attended, the women dress as provocatively as possible, whether they are going as a cat, a Nun, a nerd, or a transvestite. I see no reason to be indignant when the subject is an Native American.

    • sisterlauren

      Tell us what you think of the Doctrine of Discovery.

      • Guest

        The Doctrine of Discovery laid claim that those areas of land “discovered” by non-Indigenous explorers were rightfully theirs to lay sovereignty over. This originated from Papal Mandate but has still been used up until late to enact power over Indigenous peoples. My question is why did you bring this up? Are you trying to prove that Cal Poly students are uneducated about the history of Native Americans? It seems unrelated to me.

    • Guest

      “Wake up and realize that not everyone in this world cares where your from, what you look like, or what you believe.” That’s exactly the problem. These students didn’t care who they were offending and didn’t care what Native Americans actually look like. You don’t get to tell people they can or can’t be offended by something, especially when they are offended by something much bigger than anything that has offended you.

      • duh

        “…especially when they are offended by something much bigger than anything that has offended you”

        And how would you know something like that? Spoken like a true Liberal who applies their beliefs to everyone but those that disagree with them. You are pathetic.

      • Davidson Freeman

        Look at the logical hypocrisy within your single paragraph. On one hand you complain that the party was a problem because you personally disagree with it, then you tell “duh” he doesn’t get to tell people what’s offensive. Neither do you Guest. Just admit that you hate the party theme and want to control what others are able to say and do instead of pretending to stand for some higher moral purpose.

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  • CamasBlues
  • Lilith G

    It astounds me that in this day and age, immigrants aka colonizers come to the Americas and carry on as if no one else exists. This is not only oppressive to Native Americans, but it is promotes racism, sexism, stereo-types and segregation. Why do you have to have a “theme” that disrespects other people, nationalities, races?? Why can’t your “theme” be “greek” or wherever you’re from > make fun of your own culture or celebrate it. You do not have to come here and make fun, put down people from the americas. The school is concerned about their “reputation” of people not wanting to send their children there in the future? Maybe they should be teaching “Indigenous” studies or required classes like that to the immigrants, so the student body might learn some respect and have some understanding. The “new world” isn’t “new”.