ARIZONA-- The image of Arizona State University's fraternities went from bad to worse this week as a Martin Luther King Jr.-themed party raised the specter of racism and led to a threat of a boycott from the African-American community. Local civil-rights leaders want the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity expelled from the university for what they say is a history of racial incidents.
The latest involved images on social media of partygoers wearing stereotypical hip-hop clothes. They appear to flash gang signs and use hashtags such as "blackoutformlk" and "ihaveadream." The photos show people wearing saggy pants and posing with hollowed-out watermelon cups. The fraternity was already on university probation for a fight in November 2012, when police reports say fraternity members confronted a rival fraternity member, who was African-American, and beat him up. He suffered a broken jaw, concussion and cuts.After the latest incident at an off-campus party during the holiday weekend, local civil-rights leaders demanded Tuesday that the university permanently bar the fraternity.
They want the students who organized and participated in the party to be expelled and for ASU to "stop pretending it doesn't have an issue with racism," said the Rev. Jarrett Maupin, a local civil-rights leader."This is an assault on the Black community and our student population at ASU," Maupin said at a news conference in downtown Phoenix, where he was flanked by other civil-rights activists and college students. Two students from Estrella Mountain Community College held up a portrait of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as he spoke.Maupin said he wants to meet personally with ASU President Michael Crow. He and other civil-rights leaders are threatening to boycott the university's athletics and a fundraising campaign to rebuild Sun Devil Stadium unless demands are met. Such a boycott could include discouraging student athletes from attending ASU, which, with 76,711 students, is the largest public university in the country.University officials say they are investigating and promise swift action by the end of this week."It's safe to say the status of some individual students as well as the future of the (fraternity) chapter is currently in jeopardy," said Jim Rund, the university's senior vice president for Educational Outreach and Student Services.
Rund said the party behavior, according to reports, was "outrageous, extraordinarily offensive and wholly unacceptable."A statement issued by the university says, "(I)t is unfortunate that a few misguided individuals held an offensive party at a time when ASU, the state and the nation are celebrating Dr. King's achievements and legacy."A representative from the fraternity's national chapter was at ASU on Tuesday to begin an investigation. In a statement, a spokesman apologized for "any offensive actions that a few of our members might have participated in." "Tau Kappa Epsilon does not condone or support any actions by its members that would be defined as racist, discriminatory and/or offensive.
Social events with 'party themes' that are defined as such have no place in our fraternity's mission or purpose," spokesman Alex Baker said in the statement.TKE bills itself as the "world's largest college social fraternity," with chapters on more than 290 campuses and more than 257,000 men initiated.Most of ASU's fraternities don't run afoul of university rules, but a handful have been in trouble recently.ASU saw a string of high-profile incidents involving fraternity members in the 2012-13 school year.
One underage fraternity member died after drinking. Another nearly drank himself to death in a drinking contest. Two girls were severely burned at a party, and two off-campus fights took place, including the one involving TKE members, according to police reports.Around 4 a.m. on Nov. 18, 2012, a group of 20 or so Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity members walked into the courtyard of the Hayden Terrace apartments, the unofficial home of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.The TKE members turned over a pingpong table and confronted a fraternity member who was getting home from work. One man told him that some "Dekes," as the fraternity's members are known, had beaten up TKE members and that they were there to get revenge.
He punched the fraternity member, who was African-American, multiple times in the face, according to police reports.The victim suffered a concussion and a broken jaw.ASU investigated and put the fraternity on probation until May 17, 2014. As part of the conditions of probation, the fraternity was not allowed to have parties.Some alumni say they are saddened by the latest development.Benjamin Taylor, a Phoenix attorney who has a bachelor's degree in finance from ASU and a law degree from the University of Arizona, is hopeful university officials will take action. "We just don't want this swept under the rug and ignored," said Taylor, who is African-American.Matthew Whitaker, a history professor and director of ASU's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, said he felt "deeply offended" by the latest incident. The incident showed that race relations in America still have a long way to go, he said.
In addition to disciplinary action, he would like to see the university educate the students involved to help them understand why their actions were offensive. Whitaker said he is confident ASU officials are taking the incident seriously and dealing with it appropriately. But he is still concerned that the incident could hurt the university's reputation in the community, with alumni, and with prospective faculty. "It certainly is not going to help," he said.