CHICAGO - Charges that a University of Chicago fraternity had pledges wear sombreros and mow a lawn as Mexican ranchera music played while another frat planned a party for “Conquistadors and Aztec Hoes” have led to concern but very little action from the school’s dean of students.
Both incidents, which occurred in May, drew the ire of students, faculty and staff, and members of the greater community who said they were hateful and in poor taste.
Several students, including one faculty member, reported to campus authorities that on May 8th, pledges at the Alpha Delta Phi house were seen mowing the lawn outside the frat at 5747 S. University while wearing “oversized sombreros,” as a stereo system played Mexican ranchera music.
Around May 21, the Delta Upsilon fraternity, at 5714 S. Woodlawn, posted on Facebook about a planned party with a theme of “Conquistadors and Aztec Hoes.” Party-goers were encouraged to bring “an unlimited need to conquer, spread disease and enslave natives".
Recently, a Delta Upsilon official said in an interview with Le Prestige that the fraternity “feels really bad that the event title and description offended members of the university community, and is taking steps to rebuild our friendships with individuals and organizations that we may have offended." Aaron, as he called himself, only agreed to an interview if his identity remained anonymous. "Delta Upsilon has publicly apologized and we've talked to the Mexicans that were offended, and we even spoke to the non-Hispanic groups to make sure everything was cool. Our fraternity isn't all bad: we have two Puerto Ricans who are brothers.”
Aaron made note that the event title was changed “within an hour of appearing on Facebook” but the fraternity eventually canceled the event. "Honestly," Aaron stated nervously. "I shouldn't even be here. The University has explicitly told us to stay away from the media and that they would take care of everything. But I know that deep down we've hurt many people across U. of C., so I'm willing to share what I know."
Le Prestige visited the University of Chicago, which is located in Hyde Park and only a few minutes walking distance from President Obama's Chicago residence, and spoke with several professors and staff members. They agreed to speak only if their identities were kept hidden.
Grant, who offered us his first name, is a professor of International Relations within the University who claims to have had "personal contact" with several Alpha Delta Phi fraternity members. "As an African American, I've had my share of harassment at the University of Chicago by both the administration and students alike," he stated. "However, the administrative discrimination has been institutional while student harassment, predominantly from fraternities, has been a bit more tedious. I've been called the N-word while walking to my car, received letters with hateful language by a young man from Alpha Delta Phi, and was assaulted early this year by someone wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit."
According to Grant and 2 other professors Le Prestige spoke with, Alpha Delta Phi's members are notorious for discriminatory language and behavior against African Americans, Asian Americans, and women. Grant mentioned that on one occasion late last year, a 22 year-old gay man was assaulted near campus by two men wearing Alpha Delta Phi sweatshirts. "He came to me and was very scared," Grant passionately stated. "As a professor to a student, and as one gay man to another, this is despicable."
The blonde man, appearing a bit nervous, kept a lookout for other fraternity brothers in the vicinity. “We were told by (U, of C.) not to say anything so it wouldn’t cause any problems.” As he spoke, he broke in a sweat and took a minute to wipe his forehead. "Alpha Delta Phi basically got me into this school. My dad was a part of this, and now I am. What we did was wrong, I admit, but we have more to lose. I hope everyone, but especially the Hispanic students, know it was all in fun and not to be taken seriously."
A young woman arrived to the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity house as Le Prestige spoke to the Alpha Delta Phi member. "That's my girlfriend," he stated in a rush. "I have to go, bro."
In a statement posted on the U. of C. website, the dean of students said the institution’s “core value of rigorous and open inquiry is threatened” when comments degrade others based on their identity.
“In the past few weeks, the University has received two separate reports of incidents in our student community that invoked offensive stereotypes of members of particular racial, ethnic and gender groups,” said Kimberly Goff-Crews, the university’s dean of students. “I am troubled by the impact such incidents have on the wider student community, as they conflict with our values as an intellectual community and harm our ability to fulfill our educational mission.”
Goff-Crews has also mentioned that the incident is part of the "freedom of speech and liberty" that is granted to U. of C. students. When asked whether Alpha Delta Phi and Delta Upsilon's actions were freedom of expression or hate speech, she briskly commented: "We are an institution of higher learning: we cannot monitor the actions of every student. (They) have a right to say what they want."
Le Prestige made several attempts to contact the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs along with La Unidad Latina, M.E.C.H.A., and the Organization of Latin American Students. E-mails to their listed addresses, including those of Ms. Rosales and Ms. Arancibia of O.L.A.S. and Ms. Hernandez and Ms. Barajas of M.E.C.H.A., bounced and all failed to return phone inquiries. Mr. Kim of Students Promoting Interracial Networks (S.P.I.N.) and Ms. Zamora of Lambda Theta Alpha, a Latino-interest fraternity and an "official voice of Latino students", were also contacted via e-mail but failed to comment on the matter.
Several similar attempts at contacting the Latino/a Law Students Association were made but received no answer from a representative. Ms. Ramchandani of the Minorities in Public Policy Studies department at the University of Chicago, who claim to "raise awareness concerning issues pertaining to minority students in U. of C. and the greater community", hung up the phone as soon as the Alpha Delta Phi incident was mentioned.
Equally as disappointing is the League of United Latin American Citizens (L.U.L.A.C.) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (M.A.L.D.E.F.)'s negligence of the matter. L.U.L.A.C. failed to respond altogether while M.A.L.D.E.F. was made aware of the situation through several e-mail messages, posts on their Facebook page (one of which was dated June 18th, 2012), and telephone calls. Laura Rodriguez, who handles Media Relations for M.A.L.D.E.F., neglected several attempts at contact regarding the incidents at the University of Chicago.
Regarding the “Conquistadors and Aztec Hoes” invite, “The fact of the matter is that it promotes a culture of rape and dehumanizes a large population of Americans and women,” said student Casey Jameson, 20. "It's disgusting that a university that has such high recognition would fail to do anything to punish these students: I'm appalled."
As of July 10th, 2012, the University of Chicago has failed to issue an apology to its students and the larger community and reprimand Alpha Delta Phi and Delta Upsilon for their behavior.
Le Prestige paid a visit to Jeremy Manier, the University of Chicago's News Director, John W. Boyer, Dean of The College, along with President Robert J. Zimmer, at their on-campus location on 5801 S. Ellis Ave., Suite 501. However, the publication was informed that they were "attending several important functions...and were handling the situation adequately." All neglected to respond to press inquiries via e-mail and telephone conversation.