This is one party you should be glad you missed. The Kappa Alpha fraternity at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia is in trouble for recently throwing a “USA vs. Mexico” party. Many fraternity members and guests donned sombreros, large fake mustaches, and border patrol costumes to get in the spirit of the event. Local station NBC12 reported on the party, which allegedly included a drinking game in which students playing “Americans” tried to catch other students portraying “illegal immigrants.”
It is unfortunate as well as offensive that such incidents continue to occur at colleges and universities. These ill-advised events reflect poorly on everyone involved, from the students to their fraternities to their schools.
On their Facebook page, Kappa Alpha’s profile proclaims, “We are gentlemen of HONOR. Do you have what it takes?” This is a question that the fraternity members should perhaps ask themselves. “Men of honor” do not mock an entire ethnic group with stereotypes and anti-immigrant bigotry. One Kappa Alpha member told NBC12 that the party was “definitely not meant to be racist whatsoever.” But just because something is not intended to be racist does not make it okay. A party where guests dress up as Mexicans is no less acceptable than one where guests dressed up as Jews or African Americans. How ironic that the fraternity’s slogan is “The moral compass for the modern gentleman.”
Kappa Alpha’s actions cannot be excused by the fact that the Class of 2017 at Randolph-Macon is 78 percent white, and only three percent Hispanic. Other Randolph-Macon students have condemned the party.
To its credit, the school administration released a statement saying, “Randolph-Macon College does not tolerate any type of discriminatory behavior. The college finds this type of conduct reprehensible and in direct conflict with our values. We are in the process of holding the individuals and groups involved responsible through our judicial process.” Still, it’s sad that Kappa Alpha is bringing negative publicity to their school.
The teachable moment here is less about political correctness and more about simply respecting all people.Even in our increasingly multicultural society, such incidents seem to occur regularly.
Last year, Penn State’s Chi Omega sorority held a similar “Mexican-themed” party, as did students at Baylor University in Texas. Both resulted in unwanted attention; Chi Omega’s national governing council put the Penn State chapter on probation as a result of the controversy. Earlier this year, the University of Southern California’s Pi Kappa Phi’s proposed “Phi-esta” was cancelled after a complaint from a Mexican-American student. “I love a fiesta and a good margarita as much as the next girl, but not when it is just an excuse to make racist jokes and poke fun at a different culture,” wrote Melissa Morales in a letter to the USC Daily Trojan. “There is a big difference between celebrating a culture and mocking it.” She’s right, and if these fraternities and sororities can’t come up with better ideas for their parties, maybe they’d be better off not having the parties.
True, college students have always engaged in pranks and occasionally questionable behavior; it is part of their passage into adulthood. However, we now live in a digital world where mistakes and lapses in judgment can go viral in an instant. Kappa Alpha’s members should consider that their cultural insensitivity damages the reputations of other fraternities and sororities that are committed to community service. At a time when nearly half of Americans believe that ”a lot” needs to be done to further racial equality, wouldn’t the fraternity rather be part of the solution – rather than part of the problem?
Kappa Alpha’s “USA vs. Mexico” party was a huge mistake. Cultural insensitivity is not cool, and Latino stereotypes are no joke.
NBC Latino contributor Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.