The University of Michigan branch of Delta Sigma Phi recently deleted their Welcome Week party that was Ancient Egyptian themed due to backlash from the student body.
The party asked students to “honor our Egyptian roots and join us on the night of September 1st to celebrate our newly built pyramid” and “come to Delta Sig as a mummy, Cleopatra or King Tut it doesn’t matter to us.”
The Egyptian Student Association president Yasmeen Afifi, a Business junior, wrote in a message since the party held by a white fraternity, “the privilege within this appropriation is even larger.”
“Not only are these stereotypes extremely offensive as a whole, it is more saddening to see students from the top public university in the United States engaging in these stereotypes. As an actual Egyptian, my roots are more than a costume or a lame party,” she wrote. “My culture will not be appropriated for your entertainment.
In her Facebook post, Afifi went on to explain why the images of Anicient Egypt are still relevant today. She said that white archaeologists and historians have invaded and erased Egyptian culture, elimanting many of its African roots.
“You can’t justify your culture appropriation and Cleopatra costumes because you think ancient Egypt was a mythical civilization of the past. Egyptians still exist, we aren’t mythical creatures that vanished in fairy dust,” she wrote. “Egyptians still honor and celebrate ancient holidays till this day and we still embellish our homes and bodies with Pharaonic symbols…Just because modern Egyptians don’t wear “headdresses” and speak Hieroglyphics doesn’t mean you can appropriate and disrespect their legacy for your entertainment.”
Delta Sigma released a statement on Facebook said the party came from the “connection between the values and themes of Ancient Egypt and the national organization of Delta Sigma Phi.” However, “(u)pon hearing that our party was seen as appropriating Egyptian culture, the event was immediately cancelled.”
In the statement, the executive board of Delta Sigma apologized to students of color, adding, “It would never be the intention to make anyone from any group, especially a group that has been the victim of oppression for many generations, feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.”
“We completely accept all responsibility for this ordeal,” they wrote. “We will begin an education effort to teach ourselves how our actions have an effect on people from a wide variety of backgrounds. This situation will serve as a very teachable moment for ever Brother of our chapter by beginning a very important dialogue with those affected.”
Delta Sigma Phi’s president Samuel Finn declined to comment, as they must now direct all inquiries to the national organization
Afifi told the Daily she spoke to the president of Delta Sigma Phi yesterday. She said they agreed to rework their apology statement to explicity discuss why the event was harmful.
“I felt that their apology was very cliche and made the issue feel very surface level. Students need to understand this issue surpasses a themed party- it’s the impact of years of white washing Egyptian culture, erasing our identities, and Orientalism,” she wrote in a message.
Afifi also sent them links to articles and works, that the president agreed they would read and add to their post.
“I wasn’t going to accept an apology that felt like it was trying to write off our emotions and reactions to this event. I want to see that they actually learned from this and we agreed on them reading the articles I sent them,” she added. “If there’s no basic education and being proactive about understanding identity and history then nothing will ever change.”
An anonymous source also spoke on the 45 minute phone call.
“…(the conversation) resulted in both groups coming to a mutual understanding of the steps that will be taken to open the dialogue and increase awareness of how events like this will be avoided in the future,” they wrote in a message.
Fraternities on campus have faced a familiar situation before. In 2013, University chapter of Theta Xi faced widespread criticism of their “Hood Ratchet Thursday” themed party, that was also cancelled. Black students and students of color said the event was offensive to Black culture, with promises of “twerking contests,” “bad bitches” and gang references. The party’s controversy was one of the incidents that sparked the nationally recognized campaign #BBUM
Then-Black Student Union president Geralyn Gaines said in 2013 the event was a mockery of Black culture.
“The invitation amplified stereotypes and used a level of disgusting language that it was evident they actively tried to offend us,” she said.