Students call Aires skit 'blatantly offensive'

by Anna Parachkevova | 11/14/03 6:00am

A skit used to introduce the new members of the Aires during a show Wednesday night provoked both laughter and outrage among students in the crowd, with several students condemning the skit as a tasteless joke that exhibited ignorance.

After opening the show with several songs in front of a large crowd at Alpha Xi Delta sorority, the Aires introduced their newest members -- Jarrett Cato '07, Wesley Milks '07, Derrick Smith '07 and Zach Suppalla '07, two of whom are black and two white.

As part of the informal inauguration into the group, all four new members performed a skit together. During the first part of the skit, the two black members attempted to teach their white peers a dance step, which the white members correctly imitated. When one of the black members performed a much more complex step, the white students were utterly unable to duplicate it, to the amusement of many in the audience.

"Most people in the crowd found this to be funny. I thought this was going in the wrong direction, but I waited. The second part of the skit was blatantly offensive. I even tapped someone in front of me to make sure I had heard correctly," said Kwabena Safo-Agyekum '06, who was in the audience.

In the second part of the skit, the two white members pulled out a white sheet of paper with the word "CAT" written on it and tried to teach the black members how to spell and read. The white members described this as being "something of our culture."

"This is what I found most offensive," said Miguella Mark-Carew '04, who witnessed the act. "How is reading and writing part of their culture?"

Other students present at the event, however, maintained that the skit was never intended to be offensive.

Noting that the freshmen members had themselves authored the skit, Julie Murray '05 said that the group "was just trying to point out the absurdity of racism and stereotypes."

"People can be overly politically correct, and get offended when they should realize that no offense should be taken," she added.

Ivan Grant '04, a member of the Aires, confirmed that the four freshmen had in fact been the authors of the skit, but stressed that its intent had been the opposite of what its detractors perceived it to be.

"The Aires are a very, very cohesive group, a family of sorts," Grant said. "[The freshmen] decided to use the issue of race to highlight that this is an issue that is not a problem in the group."

Grant continued that he was "personally hurt" that students had viewed the skit as racist. "I am and we are as a group really sorry that people are hurt," he said. "I think we might have lost sight between our intentions and the effects they might have."

Some who witnessed the skit were careful not to label it as an act of racism and claimed it was just the result of ignorance.

"I am not against the Aires but against the action. This was the first Aires show I had been to, and I went to support them. It was very disappointing for me to see this. It is not the first time something like this happens. People are ignorant and do not see it as offensive because racial issues are not sufficiently addressed on this campus," Safo-Agyekum said.

For his part, Grant said he was concerned that many people had learned of the event through mass campus e-mails, many of which he said had a "biased edge" in their account of the skit.The Aires met with Tommy Lee Woon, the Associate Dean of Student Life for Pluralism and Leadership, to discuss the incident, said Grant. A closed meeting also took place yesterday between the Aires and the Black Leadership Council to allow the Aires to articulate the intentions behind the skit and to open dialogue between the two groups.