Spec reported earlier today that members of Panhellenic sorority Kappa Alpha Theta were dressed up as Mexican stereotypes at a party on Saturday. Theta President Katie Barclay posted two Facebook photos, which have since been deleted, depicting Theta sisters in sombreros, ponchos, and fake mustaches, with Mexican flag shirts that said "Down to Fiesta."
Although this sort of ethnic-themed party has gotten a decent amount of press at other universities over the past year, giving rise to the term "racist rager," no such events have been reported at Columbia in recent years.
However, the Mexican costumes tell only part of the story, according to anonymous sources who witnessed the party. According to these individuals, the pictures were taken as part of a Beer Olympics mixer event with fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon.
Partygoers were assigned teams for their respective pre-games and expected to come dressed as representations of the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Canada and Mexico. Another source saw Theta members dressed up in German outfits at the mixer, and overheard a Theta sister explaining that Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers demanded to represent the US instead of other nationalities.
We are awaiting comment from the involved organizations and Hispanic-interest groups and will update this post with any new information.
UPDATE (4:19 PM): Theta has locked their Twitter account.
UPDATE (4:23 PM): Bwog reports that other countries were represented, including Jamaica and the Netherlands.
UPDATE (6:37 PM): Here's a statement from Panhellenic president Jessica Chi to Spec and Bwog (emphasis ours):
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.
UPDATE (2:10 AM): Ruben Chaidez of the Chicano Caucus has also submitted a statement to the press.
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
UPDATE (2/24, 3:26 PM): Here's a statement from Jesus Rodriguez-Velasco, Professor and Chair of the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures:
I was out of the country until last night. Which means, as well, that I missed the "event". By now, I guess you have received all possible responses to this unfortunate and plain stupid party theme choice. It only conveys ignorance, which is not exactly the kind of value that you expect in a college student --and definitely not in a Columbia student. Sadly these students don't know anything about Mexico and they don't know anything about Mexicans -- which is terrifying, and more so at Columbia, where we have an incredibly active Mexican and Mexican American community, as well as a Center for Mexican Studies that is enormously active.
UPDATE (2/25 12:50 AM) Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez the Inter-Greek Council have released their own statements.
Jake Davidson contributed reporting.