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May 10, 2017

FIJI Responds to Allegations of Racism at Construction-themed Party

FIJI's house on 56th and Woodlawn

FIJI's house on 56th and Woodlawn

Grace Hauck / The Chicago Maroon

Several multicultural student organizations have accused the Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) fraternity campus chapter of holding a “racially insensitive” party on Cinco de Mayo, which featured fraternity members wearing construction uniforms. FIJI responded to the allegations in an open letter on May 9.  

Several organizations released an open letter detailing their concerns on Monday, May 8. The letter was signed by the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA), the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS), the Organization of Black Students (OBS), the African Caribbean Students Association (ACSA), the Muslim Students Association (MSA), and the PanAsia Solidarity Coalition (PanAsia).

The letter came four days after a May 4 statement released by MEChA, which served to “remind students not to perpetuate the racist stereotypes associated with [Cinco de Mayo].” It was informed in part by a similar incident at a Baylor University fraternity party which led to the fraternity’s suspension late last month.

The original cover photo of the event pictured four FIJI brothers with Photoshopped construction hats, with the party title “FIJI Presents: Get Hammered.” One fraternity brother also posted on the event page, “What’s the mustache policy for tonight? Asking for an amigo.” The theme was later changed, and the time of the event was switched to midnight—changing the date of the party from May 5 to May 6, after the end of Cinco de Mayo.

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The original theme of the FIJI party, as advertised on Facebook

Maroon Staff / The Chicago Maroon
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This Facebook post made to the FIJI party event page inquired on the "mustache policy" for that evening.

Maroon Staff / The Chicago Maroon

Even though the theme on the Facebook event was changed, individuals wearing hard hats, reflective construction vests, and overalls were allegedly present at the FIJI party on May 5.

According to University spokesperson Marielle Sainvilus, the University is aware of the situation and is currently looking into the matter. The University did not respond to additional questions regarding its ability to discipline FIJI. Greek letter organizations at the University of Chicago are not formally recognized by the University administration; individual members of fraternities can face discipline if the University finds cause.

In a phone call with The Maroon, FIJI national executive director Bill Martin declined to comment on the allegations, opting to leave response to the allegations in the hands of the campus chapter.

“It is my understanding that the chapter is developing a statement to the campus community to provide their version of their story, potentially today [May 9]. Because the allegations are regarding the actions of the chapter, they need the opportunity for first response,” Martin said.

The campus chapter of FIJI responded to the allegations raised by MEChA and other groups in an open letter shared online on the evening of May 9.

The letter aims to dispel any intentional connection between the theme of construction and Cinco de Mayo, noting that Mexican-themed or Cinco de Mayo-themed decorations were not present, and the term “Cinco de Mayo” was never used to describe the event.

It also states that a brother who posted an insensitive post in the Facebook group drawing an explicit connection between Cinco de Mayo and construction has been suspended indefinitely. This post has since been taken down.

The May 8 MEChA statement notes that a member of MEChA reached out to the FIJI event organizer before the party took place to express the organization’s concerns.

“The organizer assured the MEChA member that the event would be changed, and that it ‘wasn’t [their] intent to offend anyone.’ The Facebook event was consequently changed to another theme, unrelated to construction,” the statement reads.

FIJI president Clyde Anderson confirms in the letter that the fraternity was contacted regarding theme concerns, and that the theme was changed as a result.

“Unfortunately this did not dissuade some brothers from wearing construction themed attire,” Anderson wrote in the letter.

“We would like to express our sincerest apologies to any individual who may have felt discriminated against by the event. We should have been more proactive in preventing any sort of perceived discrimination to be involved in our event. Our intent was only to host an event in celebration of the (near) completion of the lengthy construction process of our house, which is still ongoing. The intent was entirely positive, and in no way meant to belittle any people group. Still, unintended consequences are consequences,” he added.

According to the letter, FIJI party themes will have to be unanimously approved by the chapter cabinet from this point forward. The letter also requests that future concerns should be directed to the president of the fraternity. It states that no one on the cabinet of the fraternity chapter was contacted in this instance.

Following the incident, the leaders of the multicultural organizations met over the weekend to draft the May 8 statement.

“Heads and members of the various multicultural organizations met and were presented with a formal draft presented by MEChA, with a majority of the document drafted. After discussing the content of the letter, we decided to move forward in agreement,” stated second-year Juan Anderson, acting co-president of OLAS.

“FIJI’s actions were personally offensive, and I am honestly most upset at seeing how my friends have been hurt. Beyond this being a racist act, I would like to emphasize that FIJI pretended to understand and care about the offensive implications of the party theme, and then turned around and used the construction theme on Cinco de Mayo anyway,” Maya Ruíz, co-chair of MEChA, told The Maroon.

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This image shows individuals dressed in construction garments outside the FIJI house the night of May 5. The individual who took this picture disclosed it to The Maroon on condition of anonymity.

Maroon Staff / The Chicago Maroon

First-year and MEChA chair of community engagement Andrés Cruz Leland says he saw individuals dressed in construction gear at the FIJI party from his window in Max Palevsky East.

“I glanced out and could see various, I assume, FIJI brothers in construction hats, as well as vests and overalls. So I was immediately extremely alarmed and frustrated because I thought that this would not be happening at all that night and they had made it very clear that they did not want that to happen and were doing their best not to have this stereotype of Mexicans be portrayed on Cinco de Mayo,” Cruz Leland said in an interview with The Maroon. “But that was not the case at all.”

Cruz Leland thought at the time that immediate action was necessary, primarily because some students were considering a violent response. He contacted his Resident Heads (RHs), who informed him of the various avenues he could use to report the incident, namely the Bias Response Team and administrators addressing Title IX.

According to Cruz Leland, at around 11 p.m., his RHs filed an incident report with the Assistant Dean of Housing on-call that night.

“It was made clear in the conversation with the Assistant Dean that this was seen by me as a racist event,” he said.

Cruz Leland was told that the most immediate option he had that night to stop the party was to file a noise complaint with the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD).

According to Robert Mason, chief information officer with the UCPD, officers were sent to address loud parties at two fraternity houses on University Avenue in the early hours of May 6. “The officers asked the frats to hold the noise down and they agreed to do so,” he said to The Maroon in an e-mail.

Since speaking to his RHs, Cruz Leland has met with members of the Bias Response Team.

“I met with two individuals and they were both very supportive…. I knew that the Bias Response Team was more aimed at discourse. However, there are other outlets that they help pursue,” he said.

Cruz Leland noted that he was told the administration does not see this incident as harassment as it was neither “pervasive” nor did it occur on multiple occasions.

“This undermines the University’s ability to have any disciplinary action towards the fraternity. There is some potential for disciplinary action…on an individual basis of members within the particular fraternity,” Cruz Leland said.

The organizations that signed with MEChA are not the only ones that reacted to these allegations. The Multicultural Greek Council, composed of the Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, alpha Kappa Delta Phi, and Lambda Pi Chi sororities, and the Alpha Phi Alpha and Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternities, also condemned perceived insensitivity to minority students in a joint statement released to The Maroon.

“We do not condone the behavior of certain Greek-lettered organizations on this campus, which they have committed in spite of the efforts of multicultural organizations to educate the campus community. We expect these organizations to acknowledge the insensitivity of their actions and their harmful impacts on students of color and respect the diversity of our student body in the future,” the statement reads.

Repeated written requests for additional comment from the FIJI campus chapter have gone unanswered at the time of publication.

Statement on Event May 5th, 2017 (1) 

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