Looking back to a happier time, Mike Stetz asks, "Whatever happened to togas?"
See all posts about racial incident at UCSD.
Bring your invitation and your ignorance
By Michael Stetz
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE COLUMNIST
February 21, 2010
It’s no surprise that college kids like to throw parties. You might be surprised by the kind of parties that some like to throw, though.
We got something of an idea last week when a number of UCSD students helped arrange a party called the “Compton Cookout,” which ridiculed African-Americans on the occasion of Black History Month.
That’s actually a more common party theme than you might think. They also go by the names “Pimps and Hos,” and “Gangsta” or “Ghetto” parties.
At these gangsta parties, students wear gold chains. They drink malt liquor. They flash gang signs.
Fraternities also have thrown parties making fun of Latinos. At Santa Clara University, students came dressed as gardeners and janitors. Some of the women put balloons under their shirts to look pregnant.
Poor white people are targets, too. A fraternity at the University of Idaho throws a big one at the end of the year. Partyers wear overalls and John Deere caps to the “White Trash Trailer Bash.”
Here’s another party concept: “Mekong Delta.” At the University of Florida, male students dressed up as U.S. soldiers and the women as Vietnamese prostitutes.
Whatever happened to togas?
So why is this happening? Daniel Widener, who teaches African-American history at UCSD, believes that the lack of black students on college campuses is partly to blame.
“The Cosby Show” probably boasted more blacks than UCSD. So the other students rarely get a chance to interact with average, everyday blacks, Widener said.
They get their cues from TV, which often portrays young blacks as gangsters and thugs, Widener said. And they aren’t told when they’re crossing the line because there’s no one to tell them so.
Society, in general, has tired of hearing about the plight of minorities, Widener said. That’s particularly true now, given how the economy is hurting all people, whites included. So fewer college students feel empathy.
They may even feel threatened by the rise of minorities, such as President Barack Obama.
Some students said that those involved in the party are not racists. They’re just normal guys who weren’t thinking, said Debbie Sert, a member of the sorority TriDelta.
“They were trying to be funny,” Sert said. “But it was ridiculous. I’d never take part in it.”
On campus last week, she was selling calendars that pictured members of different campus fraternities. The money is going to a local hospital.
“We’re shocked because it’s not what the Greek community is about,” Sert said.
Members of Pi Kappa Alpha — also known as Pike — the fraternity in question, are pictured in the calendar. They represent the month of August and are pictured in Speedos and holding foam noodles, which help keep you afloat.
In the back of the calendar is another picture of the students. There, they have the noodles sticking out from their crotches.
They’ve since cleared out their Web site, which had pictures of them partying. And partying.
They wouldn’t return phone calls or e-mails.
UCSD got hit with more controversy when a student-run television show was aired Thursday defending the students who threw the party and criticizing blacks for being offended.
Regardless of how anyone feels about what the students did — and some feel it was no big deal, that it was just a joke — some argue the students do indeed have the right to have their party.
Gene Policinski of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn., noted how the First Amendment “allows people to say hurtful and insulting things.”
It would be wrong to suppress it, Policinski said. Indeed, it sometimes works out better if such speech is aired. That way, people can rally to fight against it.
“It promotes more speech,” he said.
That’s already happening at UCSD. For one thing, the party invitation, which described “ghetto chicks” as having “short nappy hair” and “cheap weave,” turned viral because people were outraged over it.
And the incident is sparking a loud call for the university to do a better job in recruiting blacks and fostering a more welcoming campus.
One of the colleges there is named after Thurgood Marshall. Let’s see if they can start living up to it.