Photos Courtesy of the Arizona Informant
PHOENIX – As most citizens across the country were celebrating the life and stellar accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. over the federal King Holiday Weekend in a respectful way – some by attending special programs and others by volunteering for community service – a band of students at Arizona State University had less honorable things in mind.
Pictures of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity members holding a so-called “MLK Black Party” reflected almost every demeaning stereotype of African Americans imaginable, including White students drinking from watermelon cups, guests dressed in basketball jerseys and some flashing gang signs.
The embarrassing behavior brought back memories of the early 1990s when the state of Arizona was boycotted for its failure to observe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday, costing the state an estimated $200 million. In 1991, the NFL pulled the Super Bowl out of Tempe for that decision. When the King decision was reversed, the boycott was cancelled and Phoenix hosted the Super Bowl in 1996.
The off-campus party on Jan. 19 wasn’t sanctioned by Arizona State University administrators – or anyone else who believes in common decency. Once the offensive photos surfaced on social media, they were met with disbelief and outrage by the Black community.
At a January 22 press conference in front of Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism on campus, several African-American community leaders demanded action against the offending students and fraternity.
“It was just a raucous, racist rally, and they used Dr. King’s holiday as a mask for racial villainy and harassment,” explained local civil rights activist Rev. Jarrett Maupin.
India Purnell, president of Arizona State University National Pan-Hellenic Council, said, “For those that have taken part in the party, I urge you really reflect what you have done and on how you have represented yourself and the community.”
In the face of such obnoxious behavior, Purnell urged Black students to model Dr. King’s dignified behavior.
Ja’han Jones, president of African American Men of Arizona State University, wrote in an open letter to the campus. At the press conference, he said, “I extended a welcome for us to sit down and talk about the issue. I question why they would be willing to tarnish a legacy which spans beyond of 115 years for such a party.”
The fraternity, already on probation since 2012 for excessive hazing and other infractions, was subsequently banned from ASU and some students face possible expulsion.
”We regard the behavior exhibited as completely outrageous, extraordinarily offensive and wholly unacceptable,” said James Rund, ASU’s senior vice president for Educational Outreach and Student Services. “This kind of behavior is not tolerated by the university, and we intend to take swift and immediate action. We just don’t have room at the university to tolerate that kind of conduct.”
ASU determined that the fraternity violated the school’s Student Code of Conduct, including violating the of terms of the previous suspension; violating rules or applicable laws governing alcohol, including underage consumption; distribution of alcoholic beverages; and engaging in discriminatory activities, including harassment and retaliation.
Alex Baker, a spokesman for the national fraternity, said the group does not condone racist or discriminatory behavior.
“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,” Baker said in a statement.
ASU is continuing to investigate the actions of individual fraternity members and other students who may have violated the ASU Student Code of Conduct. Upon conclusion of that investigation, ASU will take additional disciplinary action, if warranted.
“I think it’s pretty ignorant of them. Some these kids should think before they go making crazy decisions and posting stupid pictures. Leave the day to reflect such a great man and historical figure,” said Gabriel Rodriquez, an ASU junior.
Jocelyn Henderson also a junior, agrees with the revocation of the fraternity and those that participated in the party. “All the students that took part in it should be expelled.”
The incident drew national attention, adding pressure on the administration to take some action. Local Black leaders had threatened a boycott of ASU sporting events if swift action was not taken to address the controversy.
Rand, the ASU senior vice president, said: “When students gather as part of a university recognized organization, whether it is a varsity sports team, the student newspaper, an academic club or a fraternity, students are expected to conduct themselves in manner that reflects the core values of ASU, which include respect for all people, races and cultures.”