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An investigation has been launched into the University’s chapter of the Theta Xi fraternity after several students filed formal complaints with the University administration regarding the fraternity’s now-cancelled plans to host a party with a “ratchet” theme next Thursday.
Many students of color say they were personally offended by the invitation that was sent via Facebook, complaining that it parodied Black culture and offended women, referring to twerking contests, “bad bitches,” gang references and repeated use of the word “ratchet.”
Early Thursday morning, Theta Xi members said the fraternity won’t be commenting on the matter. Fraternity brothers were camped out on the Diag for their annual “Defend the Diag” ritual.
Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones, who lodged a formal complaint with the fraternity, said the University responded immediately and took student complaints very seriously.
Jones held a meeting yesterday with the Greek Life Director Mary Beth Seiler, Interfraternity Council leaders and LSA senior Eric Quang, Theta Xi’s president. The University also reached out to Theta Xi’s national board, whose members expressed concern and are conducting their own investigation.
The administration made it clear that the party will not be allowed to take place on Nov. 7, and Theta Xi’s national headquarters has determined all further social events will be suspended until their investigations are concluded.
“It was very important that we all get together and discuss the impact this unfortunate event has had on the University community, as well as our expectations moving forward,” Jones said. “Obviously, the way the party was both conceived of and executed is in direct contradiction to the standards of our university.”
Jones plans to meet with students Thursday to discuss ways of remedying the situation, as well as making sure their underlying concerns about racial issues on campus are addressed. Additionally, an e-mail informing students of the discussion and expressing disappointment was sent out Thursday morning to address a largely “negative” situation.
While Jones stopped short of calling events like this a trend, she said it’s clear that some level of education and dialogue is necessary to ensure that students are aware what language and behavior is appropriate, and how cultural appropriation has potential for harm.
“In society we certainly see examples, not only in parties but in the media and how people present themselves; it’s certainly not a problem unique to Greek Life or our campus,” Jones said. “The incident in question was not only racially offensive, but degrading to women in general, and the most restorative way to move forward is to provide education on why this is not acceptable.”
The fraternity is in the process of drafting an apology to the students who came forward, which will later be broadly circulated as a means of accepting responsibility for their situation, Jones said.
LSA junior Geralyn Gaines, secretary for the Black Student Union, described her initial reaction to the event as “complete and utter disgust.” She said this was the first time she’s personally experienced racism on campus or felt specifically targeted and attacked.
“I love U of M and even today I’m fundamentally happy, but it’s scary to think that I sit in class with people who think this way and people that agree with them, people who legitimately thought this party was a good idea and was okay,” Gaines said. “The invitation amplified stereotypes and used a level of disgusting language that it was evident they actively tried to offend us.”
Gaines said she was particularly offended by the use of the word “ratchet,” which she says is prominently used in the Black community to describe something terrible or someone who doesn’t know how to handle themselves. She also took issue with the invitees section, which specifically asked for “bad bitches” and “rachet pussy,” which she believes was an attempt to make a mockery of Black culture.
Gaines believes that requiring the University to approve all party themes moving forward would help avoid similar issues in the future.
Music, Theatre & Dance senior Erica Nagy said she was compelled to write a formal complaint after seeing the emotional toll the situation took on her roommate.
“We were all mad and found the situation unacceptable, especially after seeing how upset she’d been the whole day after carrying this hurt around with her,” Nagy said. “You don’t have to be a certain race to be offended by racist material; I think anyone who isn’t offended isn’t paying attention.”
She specifically took issue with the fact that no one involved in the fraternity identified with Black culture and that they used language “that wasn’t theirs to use” in an attempt to directly offend people.
Though this was the first time she had been invited to a party with an offensive theme, Nagy she knows it happens often — both in and out of Greek Life — because people don’t understand the ramifications of cultural appropriation.
“I guess my hope for all of this is that it starts a conversation about race on this campus so that people can learn that their words and actions truly affect other people,” she said. “I don’t want to see (Theta Xi) punished because I don’t think that would solve the true problem here; we need to get people talking and learning.”