Huffpost College

Explaining Why Students Are Offended When Greeks Hold Racist Parties

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For some students on campus, seeing a bunch of fraternity or sorority members dress up as "gangstas" or donning sombreros and fake mustaches to represent Mexico really strikes a nerve.

Recently, Greek organizations at two prestigious schools have come under fire for hosting parties with a racist theme. At the University of Pennsylvania, Chi Omega and Beta Theta Pi hosted a mixer that was not only "gangsta" themed, but was specifically titled "West Philadelphia Born and Raised."

Ernest Owens, a student at Penn, wrote a blog post in response to the offensive party, after one of Penn's Chi Omega members personally reached out to him asking him to bring attention to the event.

"Gang violence is something that happens in these communities, including the community that I came from," Owens said during a HuffPost Live segment Wednesday, "and for it to be used as a theme for a party I thought was really offensive."

Perhaps the Penn Greeks should've expected the party wouldn't go over well, since Dartmouth College frats faced backlash for a similar "Ghetto Party" 16 years ago and a "Bloods & Crips Party" last summer.

Owens insisted the term "gangsta" is racially charged, and cited the differences in association between a "gangsta" versus "gangster" themed party.

"If it was a 'gangster' themed party, why wasn't Al Capone, Scarface or any other mobsters or mafia member featured in this event?" Owens asked. "When they use the term 'gangsta' -- which is jargon used in African American communities and other communities -- that's racially charged, which made it very focused on members of the black communities and the racial stereotypes of what they call a 'gangsta.'"

Columbia University's Kappa Alpha Theta and Sigma Phi Epsilon had a similar situation when they hosted a "Beer Olympics" themed party where students arrived wearing offensive costumes to represent the Mexican and Japanese teams. Though there were students who managed to depict other countries in non-offensive manners, some of the costumes worn promoted cultural appropriation.

"The perceived insensitivity here is that the depictions of different countries, in particular Mexico, were seen as culturally insensitive," said Sean Augustine-Obi, a student at Columbia. "There were sombreros, ponchos and t-shirts that said 'Down To Fiesta.'"

However, he pointed out a difference between the two parties, claiming that though Columbia's party wasn't intentionally malicious, while the Penn gathering's theme seemed to be looking to perpetuate negative stereotypes.

Watch a clip of the students discussing the parties in the video above.

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