Planned luau party causes controversy

by Brad Russo | 8/17/99 5:00am

After a weekend of behind-the-scenes activity by Greek leaders and campus advocates, it now appears most of the controversy has been settled surrounding Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity's and Delta Delta Delta sorority's planned luau theme party.

The Coed Fraternity Sorority Council released an official statement early yesterday morning after house presidents discussed and diffused the issues surrounding the controversy amongst themselves and Aaron Akamu '01, an unofficial spokesman for upset native Hawaiian students.

The CFSC hailed the handling of the matter as the way interactions between Greek and non-Greek interests should occur, although relatively few students seemed interested in the controversy over the weekend and many who did told The Dartmouth they did not consider the theme to be offensive.

The CFSC wrote in its official statement that it "deeply regrets this unfortunate incident. However, we believe that the way in which it was resolved demonstrates the type of relationship that needs to be formed among the CFS system and other students and student groups. That the situation was resolved with neither administrative involvement nor a drawn out conflict clearly shows the benefits of developing these open lines of communication."

The controversy was sparked when Omar Rashid '00, president of the historically Latino fraternity Lambda Upsilon Lambda, sent a BlitzMail message late last Thursday night to various students and administrators calling the planned party "a vile act of incivility." Rashid did not respond to several phone and BlitzMail interview requests by The Dartmouth. Akamu also refused several requests for interviews.

The co-sponsored party was advertised by members of Tri-Delt through BlitzMail as having a Hawaiian theme and encouraged students to dress "Hawaiian style."

Rashid wrote in his message that the party was "unacceptable" and said the planned party was an act of "bigotry" and "racism."

"Perhaps the rest of the members of the CFSC will tolerate bigotry, however, we Los Hermanos Imprecendibles de La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity Incorporated will not be a part of any organization that does not reprimand its members who engage in racism," Rashid wrote in his accusation.

He compared the party to last fall's "ghetto" party which sparked national news attention and significant campus protests.

Rashid threatened to pull LUL from the CFSC if the Greek body "will not reprimand Alpha Chi and any other organization involved in this vile act of incivility and thus condone it (for any silence would be a shout of approval), then we will have no choice but to withdraw ourselves from your membership."

Adofo-Mensah said he had not discussed the threat with Rashid since Friday and does not know the status of his complaints.

"I haven't talked to him since he's issued his threat. I guess time will tell," Adofo-Mensah said.

He said Rashid participated in the meetings leading up to the official statement.

Soon after receiving Rashid's angry message, the presidents of Alpha Chi and Tri-Delt canceled the party and apologized through a mass BlitzMail message.

"It has come to our attention that this theme has offended members of the Dartmouth community. On behalf of AXA and DDD, we would like to apologize for any disrespect and harm our actions caused," wrote Alpha Chi Summer President Eric Kelley '01 and Tri-Delt Summer President Alexandra Sophocles '01.

A blitz was then sent from the CFSC account soundly criticizing the party and calling punishment for planning such an event completely appropriate.

The blitz said the houses were right to apologize "because they were at fault" and said "the organizations at fault clearly did not act in accordance with [the Principle of Community] and therefore there is no question that they must and will be punished."

"A Luau is a religious ceremony, and the fact that organizations wished to use it as the theme of an alcoholic party is unacceptable ... Also, a Luau has historical implications related to the United States' annexation of Hawaii, an act which many Hawaiians still disagree with (and understandably so). If this party were to happen it would have made a mockery of both Hawaiian religion and history."

The CFSC retracted the statement and its harsh wording later in the day, saying it was "just an error" sent by an executive of the organization without official authorization. However, a blitz was sent immediately prior to the statement introducing it and was "signed" by Adofo-Mensah. Adofo-Mensah denied writing either message but declined to clarify who did, other than to say a CFSC "executive."

Kelley and Sophocles said yesterday they were pleased with the way their houses and the CFSC handled the incident. Both said they still think it was appropriate to cancel the party so soon after the allegation, and said they did not intend to offend anyone with the theme.

"On reflection I can see how it could have been deemed offensive. We certainly never had the intent to offend anyone. I never thought it was an offensive thing but I can see how it could be," Sophocles said. "Even if it comes down to a matter of politeness no one wants to offend anyone else."

Sophocles said while she sees a personal distinction in magnitude between the offensiveness of this party and that of last year's "ghetto" party, she can understand how others would not see that distinction. "To me they're very different but maybe to a native Hawaiian they are very similar," she said.

Both Sophocles and Kelley met with Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman and Assistant Dean of Residential Life Deb Reinders about the controversy.

"They felt like we handled the situation well," Sophocles said. She said the community forum on the issue promised in the Greek houses apology blitz will most likely occur in the fall. Redman said he offered ORL's full support in planning that educational event and said he agreed the party theme was offensive.

"I think this one was a little less apparent to the student body than the ghetto party was last fall, but it runs along a similar vein," Redman said, adding he thinks whenever an event based on an ethnic, cultural or religious theme is planned organizers should ask interested students if it is appropriate.

"Would I expect a 17- or 18-year old student to think about that at first blush? That's a hard question to answer but in this environment I think so," he said. "With the way our society is we need to be cognizant" of cultural sensitivities.

Since the BlitzMail invitations to the party, co-sponsored by Tri Delt, a national sorority, included multiple references to alcohol, there is an added issue for that house.

"That situation is not resolved yet. I am hopeful the fact the party never took place will work in our favor," Sophocles said. "I think there will be some repercussions but I don't think there will be any punitive measures."

She said she hopes for only a warning but said the house advisor is working on the alcohol situation with the national organization.

This is not the first time Rashid has alleged racism because of a Greek party. In January, Rashid wrote a letter to The Dartmouth claiming "bigots" had once again conspired at a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity party with a "Miami" theme in which some students believed attendees were encouraged to dress like Cubans. That accusation failed to gather significant campus outrage.

Most students agreed with Sig Ep officials who said the references were directed at a Cuban house brother and were understood within the house.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a luau was a ceremonial banquet attended only by men and consisting only of dishes made with the taro plant. Today, the term refers to a modern, informal feast.

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