Members of Columbia’s Kappa Alpha Theta chapter have come under fire for posting pictures that many consider racist from their mixer last night on Facebook and other social media websites. While the mixer was reportedly “Olympic team” themed, Bwog thinks it would be difficult to play sports in a sombrero and fake mustache.
Spec posted a picture of one the Mexican group, which used sombreros, thick mustaches, and maracas. But sisters also dressed up in themed attire for the Netherlands, Japan, Jamaica, Germany, France, and other countries. “Team Japan” wore high stockings, pigtails, and chopsticks in their hair, and puts up peace signs for the camera. While sororities themselves are not allowed to have mixers or alcohol in their houses, we’ve been told that this particular mixer was held in Sig Ep and was registered with the administration. The pictures below have been submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org since the Olympic mixer happened last night.
Update (6:27 pm): Jessica Chi, President of the Columbia University Panhellenic Association, just released the following statement, saying she “truly apologize[d] for any harm the incident and photos in question” may have caused and that the “concerns brought to light by this incident do not at all reflect the shared values” of the Greek community. See it below the jump.
Update (11:33 pm): We have received a rumor that Theta members met today to discuss the incident and were instructed not to speak to the press.
Update (12:23 am): The Chicano Caucus Executive Board has released a statement regarding the issue, reproduced below.
Update (7:02 PM): Statement released by Dean Martinez in response.
The Columbia University Panhellenic Association fully recognizes the seriousness of the issue at hand and sincerely apologizes for any harm that these pictures may have caused. We are taking this matter very seriously and are working directly with members of the organization involved to address the situation thoroughly. We would like to stress that the concerns brought to light by this incident do not at all reflect the shared values of the Panhellenic community, or of Columbia’s greater Greek community, but rather the unfortunate and unintentional misjudgment of a few individuals.
Though it is our understanding that the photos were not posted with the intent to offend or alienate any group or individual, the Panhellenic Association would also like to emphasize that it does not at all condone behavior or language representing any form of cultural insensitivity, whether intentional or not. Moving forward, we will continue engaging in conversations and educational efforts with our chapters’ members and leaders to promote a strong understanding of, and commitment to, the diversity we so deeply value within the Greek community, on campus, and beyond.
Again, we truly apologize for any harm the incident and photos in question may have caused and are actively working to rectify the situation, as well as to address the concerns of the community, to the best of our ability.
From Chicano Caucus:
On Saturday, February 22nd, photographs of Columbia’s Kappa Alpha Theta members dressed in stereotypical Mexican attire surfaced on social media sites and came to the attention of Chicano Caucus’ executive board.While we understand that the actions taken by these members may not have intended to be harmful, they were in fact offensive. Stereotypes are used to oppress marginalized communities. These pictures caricaturize Mexican culture and should not be overlooked. The attire trivializes an entire nation’s history, its peoples, and its cultures, reducing them to a mere mustache and sombrero. Though the attire was meant to represent Mexico in a game of Beer Olympics, in actuality it perpetuates the American stereotype of the sombrero-wearing Mexican-American migrant worker, distorting the culture into a form of entertainment.That’s not to say that members outside of the Mexican culture cannot dress in our cultural garb or partake in our traditions. However, altering the Mexican flag is not the way to participate in a respectful manner. One way a nation is able to share its culture is through its respective flag. The center of the Mexican flag displays an eagle holding a serpent atop a cactus, symbolizing the founding of Tenochtitlan, what is now Mexico City. In the pictures, the students wear what is meant to be the Mexican flag, but it is defaced through the removal of the national coat of arms in order to include the letters of sorority insignia. This act strips away a foundation of our culture and pride.
After the incident was made public, one of Chicano Caucus’ presidential co-chairs received a verbal apology from the president of Columbia’s Kappa Alpha Theta chapter, and we appreciate the gesture. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. In fact, similar situations have occurred in the past with other organizations on Columbia’s campus. These photos reflect a larger issue at Columbia University in which cultural consciousness is not at the forefront of social and academic dialogue.
While we cannot speak for every Mexican, Mexican-American, or Chican@, we feel that any form of cultural appropriation is humiliating and perpetuates that group’s oppression in the United States by reinforcing a general culture of disrespect.
The term “cultural appropriation” is not one that is discussed often at Columbia, and it is not one that is easy to define. We hope that these photos promote campus-wide discussions as to what “cultural appropriation” entails and why it is a controversial topic to groups who are often the subjects of such actions.
One of Chicano Caucus’ goals is to initiate and participate in activities that foster inter-group relations among the Columbia University community. We want to use this opportunity as a starting point to establish a coalition against cultural appropriation to actualize institutional change within Columbia University.
Tangible solutions need to be reached so that this does not happen again.
-Chicano Caucus Executive Board