An Arizona State fraternity chapter finds itself in hot water with civil rights activists, the university and its own international fraternity after hosting a Martin Luther King Day party that has been deemed racist. The party, hosted off-campus by ASU’s chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon, was called the “MLK Black Party.” Students – mostly white – were encouraged to attend “dressed like black people.”
Students at the MLK party wore baggy basketball uniforms, sagging pants, baseball caps rocked to the side, bandanas and other clothing styles often associated with gangs and black stereotypes. The Arizona State fraternity first drew negative attention as a result of photos on social media sites such as Instagram showing the party-goers throwing up gang signs and drinking from watermelon cups. The images were displayed with hashtags such as #mlkparty, #blackoutformlk, and #ihaveadream.
Civil rights activists were quick to respond.
According to the L.A. Times, Revs. Jarrett Maupin and Luther Holland – who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. – were among the key speakers at a Tuesday news conference held outside Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications in Phoenix. Rev. Maupin, who organized the news conference, called for a boycott of ASU athletic programs and fundraising efforts until the students involved are expelled from the university and the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity is permanently banned from the campus. The proposed boycott comes in the midst of a campaign to rebuild ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium.
During the press conference, Rev. Maupin claimed that students showed up at the Arizona State fraternity’s party in blackface, that students used the “n-word” and that “somebody was dumb enough to invite a black student to attend this black party.” Maupin claims he found out about the party because of the African-American student who had been invited.
Rev. Maupin further referred to the Tau Kappa Epsilon black party as “advanced racism,” claiming that the party took “creativity and effort to plan and promote” and that the purpose of the party was to mock black people. He further pointed out that, of the many black people in attendance at the news conference, none were dressed in the manner in which TKE members and their guests dressed at the party.
This isn’t the first time the Arizona State University chapter of TKE has found itself in trouble. The fraternity was already on probation because of an incident which involved more than 20 members assaulting a rival fraternity member – an African American student – in November 2012. The terms of the probation forbade Tau Kappa Epsilon from staging parties until May.
Arizona State University has suspended all of Tau Kappa Epsilon’s activities and plans to take further action against those who were involved.
For its part, the Tau Kappa Epsilon International Fraternity has issued an official statement apologizing for the alleged actions of the ASU chapter and distancing itself from their behavior. The fraternity, whose motto is Better Men for a Better World, had this to say about their stance on racially themes parties:
“Tau Kappa Epsilon does not condone or support any actions by its members that would be defined as racist, discriminatory, and/or offensive. Social events with “party themes” that are defined as such have no place in our fraternity’s mission or purpose. It is with embarrassment and regret when a few individuals within our organization make decisions that do not align with the values and principles of Tau Kappa Epsilon.”
TKE also has a representative in Phoenix actively investigating its Arizona State fraternity chapter’s conduct.