An Asian-themed party earns a Duke fraternity criticism and suspension

Duke students upset over an Asian-themed frat party went on the offensive and posted these photos around campus.

Duke students upset over an Asian-themed frat party went on the offensive and posted these photos from the event around campus.

In the stupid fraternity tricks department, Duke University’s Kappa Sigma is making national headlines for an Asian-themed frat party Friday that it held despite concerns from the university.

The consequences have been swift and considerable. Hundreds of Duke students condemned the party in a campus rally Wednesday. And the national organization of the Kappa Sigma fraternity suspended the operations of the Duke chapter pending an investigation.

The party is igniting debate nationwide including on the Duke Chronicle, the independent newspaper on the campus, which stopped public commenting after nearly 400 remarks.

I read a lot of the comments, many of which went like this: “I can’t believe people get offended so easily. Pretty soon they’ll be shouting to ban Halloween… No more nuns, or cowboys, or beer girls… The problem is not THEM the problem is YOU. You are clearly ashamed of the  “stereotype”  — we who embrace the ’stereotypes’ of our culture live in relative peace…try it. So what if my people wore conical hats, or leather frilled pants, or a black tunic and cross, so what if they wore big sombreros, had pistols, or wore spurs, so what if they had lederhosen and drank lots of beer, or wear camo and have sunburned necks…so what…and you know if that is just a ’stereotype’ and they didn’t really do any of that…who the fu^% cares!! Life is too short. Grow up. Have fun.”

On the other side, there was this:

I am an alum, not Asian, but definitely offended. The Kappa Sigs were counseled by the university to not have the party, but did so anyway. They can’t be surprised by the backlash. Anyone who voluntarily put on stereotypical Asian attire, allowed themselves to be photographed wearing such attire, cannot be surprised that the pictures ended up on Facebook, and, quite frankly, no one has the duty to “shield” them from the backlash either. They may have acted out of ignorance, but ignorance has a price. This is an opportunity for constructive dialogue, and I hope that this is what occurs…Being accused of racist behavior is something that will make most people defensive and therefore resistant to examining the roots of their behavior (which may just be simple ignorance, or worse, a conscious effort to mock and antagonize a group of people), and to listening to an explanation about why their actions have hurt and offended others.

It is disheartening, but not surprising, to see so many commenters post statements in defense of the Kappa Sigs and the party-goers, and telling all those who were offended by their actions to “get over it,” and to stop being “so sensitive.” It’s much easier and safer to dismiss the protests as originating from hypersensitivity than it is to sit down and have a difficult but honest conversation about history, stereotypes, and oppression.

According to the Duke Chronicle:  (Please read the full article before commenting here.)

A theme party held Friday by Kappa Sigma fraternity has drawn major backlash from the Asian community and others at the University and online.

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, several students, including seniors Ashley Tsai, Tong Xiang and Ting-Ting Zhou posted fliers across campus protesting a Kappa Sigma party that took place Feb. 1. The fliers included emails containing racially insensitive language sent out to party invitees and photographs from Facebook of costumed students at the party with their faces obscured. The actions precipitated criticism both of the party and of the fliering, and resulted in an official apology from Kappa Sigma.

“This is not just about Asians, one party or one frat,” Tsai said. “This is a consistent thing happening. We want serious things to be done by the student body and the University so that this never happens again.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

28 comments Add your comment

10:10 am

February 7th, 2013
6:13 pm

Liberals seek to employ white guilt … all the way to accomplishing European style socialism here in America.

The rest of us can only hope they fail in their quest.

Alexis de Tocqueville certainly seems to have nailed it when he surmised the institution of African slavery in North America would have repercussions extending far beyond those imagined in the mid-1800s, when he wrote so perceptively about the American condition.

William Casey

February 7th, 2013
6:35 pm

College guys do stupid, insensitive stuff. Not much new there.

BemusedinBrookhaven

February 7th, 2013
6:41 pm

I wore a pair of Banana Republic Khakis with a Brooks Brothers polo, web belt with sailboats and Sperry docksiders today. I’m white, and 52. I’m sure someone, somewhere, was offended. I will commit seppuku in the driveway of my suburban home tonight.

bootney farnsworth

February 7th, 2013
7:16 pm

one would think people had bigger concerns in life.

but one does wonder when today’s generation will finally realize the downside to putting everything out for display on the internet. one of these days a Mr. Kim or Tang may be reviewing their resumes.

Prof

February 7th, 2013
7:56 pm

I’ve always thought that if those in a minority are offended by what they’re called or how they’re portrayed, then this should be respected. How easy to be broad-minded when you’re not in the minority!

Truth in Moderation

February 8th, 2013
12:10 am

“those in a minority”
Minority is a relative term. If I snuck across the border into Mexico, would I be a minority in Mexico?
Should I be upset if they call me “gringo”? If Senator Menendez flies to the Dominican Republic, would they consider him a minority? The list goes on and on…..

Truth in Moderation

February 8th, 2013
12:22 am

Here’s a suggestion for the Kappa Sigma’s next party: A SLPC HATE MAP PARTY! They are GUARANTEED ZERO PROBLEMS with this theme! Just go to the website map AND PICK YOUR FAVORITE HATE GROUP to inspire your costumes. HMMMMM. A black and white cow costume comes to mind. Or the old standby, a sheet and a cross. CHOOSE FROM A WIDE ARRAY OF GROUPS THAT HOWIE and JULIAN hate! Get planning NOW!
http://splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map#s=GA

Truth in Moderation

February 8th, 2013
1:28 am

Oops, I forgot to mention a Boy Scout Uniform……

AlreadySheared

February 8th, 2013
9:09 am

Sigh… This from the same group of pc wingnuts who hung their lacrosse team out to dry because of a false, racially-charged accusation.

If the Kappa Sigs can get away with this, what’s next? A car commercial with a white guy from Minnesota speaking with a Jamaican accent?

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
3:32 pm

Maybe I’m a block head, but how did culturally themed party get turned into making “oppression?” I haven’t read all of the links or such, but it is the problem? Icelandic party? Spain party? Hawaiian Lua? (sp?) Caveman party? Where is the sin and why is it converted into oppression? Half of them probably drive Hondas and all of the phones are made in Shenzhen, China. Did I miss something? Can someone explain explain the conversion process to me, tell it to me like I am a five year old, why a culture them party about somewhere on the other side of the world is oppression?

Half of the Duke party students are probably business majors trying to figure out how to do business with foreign manufacturing / markets.

Prof

February 8th, 2013
3:57 pm

@ Private Citizen.

I did check the links. In addition to the party photos with the student wearing a coolie hat, and another with girls assuming the obsequious “geisha girl” posture, the Duke student paper reported this:

“The party was originally called “Kappa Sigma Asia Prime” in a Jan. 29 email sent out by the fraternity. …The original emailed invitation included misspellings to convey accented English—“Herro Nice Duke Peopre”—and contained a meme based on Kim Jong Il character in the film “Team America: World Police.”

Those negative stereotypes of Pacific Rim Asians derive from World War II days, ultimately, when all such Asians were seen as dangerous enemies. Using them nowadays implies that they still are. It’s hurtful.

Similar themed parties using stereotypes of African Americans speaking in a slurred dialect and wearing raggedy overalls wouldn’t be taken well, now would they? Neither should this “Kappa Sigma Asian Prime” party.

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
4:15 pm

Prof, I convert this into the main sin being using sexism and class-caste, coolie labor, etc. As far as the slurred speech, yes it is in bad taste. Makes me think of a Czech friend who can not pronounce a “V” to save his life. For him, the drink is “Wodka.”

Making satire of North Korea might be good thing, though, especially if it was reported back there, if it was done well.

The problem, and I mean a big problem, with identity politics is that you can not group peoples so readily. If you actually know anyone from Africa, the countries are all different, the people are extremely different, different height, build, language, bone structure, face structure, different politics, vastly hugely different. Same with Asians. I tella you what. I am going to dial up for you a profound scene from a Bruce Lee movie where the Japanese are giving the Chinese a bad time. -Oh don;t you know, they’ve got it all copyright blocked from hell now. “This video contains content from MC MRMX, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.”

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
4:16 pm

Prof, thank you for the synopsis / explanation. A little busy today.

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
4:19 pm

PS Maybe I should call the Duke fraternity and inform them that the last “Asian” I knew sold a commercial property for $18 million.

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
4:22 pm

Prof

February 8th, 2013
4:29 pm

All very well and good about identity politics, differences between Africans, historical hatreds of Asians for one another (in World War II the Japanese gave the Chinese a very bad time–they abducted 1000s of Chinese women to use as “comfort ladies” for the Japanese soldiers, and the Chinese have not forgotten).

But these are all Duke students. It is mean and hurtful for some students to imply publicly that other students are inferior because of their country of origin…with which our own country has been at war at least twice. There is still an edginess here among many Pacific Rim Asians because of our long Vietnam War. A lot of hatred unleashed then, as well as 20 years earlier.

AlreadySheared

February 8th, 2013
4:39 pm

LOVE “Team America, World Police”. Incredibly crude and vulgar, but also very funny.

Is that off limits now? Show it,watch it, or refer to it and you’re oppressing someone?

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
4:48 pm

Duke is a powerful school. It says a lot about the families the students have come from. It sounds like they are sheltered and gotten dosed with veterans who speak at home about “never trust a Japanese” or other fallout from the ground war in Vietnam. Certainly the series of US war department involvement in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam has a certain fallout. I see a more substantive issue being how these students, what homes they come from, and how they are so culturally sheltered, prone to a sort of cultural avarice based on ignorance. Duke being an upper-class school, many of these same students probably hold similar view to the use of peasant-class in the USA, the party is all for “them” children of the stock-market investment class, so familiar to “fraternity” culture, where the rich kids clump together and try and sort out the transition from home life to independence. A lot of these also have family pressure upon them to continue class-caste use of people or categorising people in this manner. This is about a whole lot more than making fun of a foreign peoples. -Not really in the spirit to voice it more clearly. The other thing is how out of touch they seem to be with the current world. This is why in Europe a young person is expected to make a sojourn, or travel, prior to beginning a professional career, so that they have some bearing what it going on in the world. (particularly if they plan to either rule it or be of service / relevance).

Another issue: Fraternity / sororiety (sp?) culture with a strong need to role play of practice strong sex-identity roles, where the men are macho and the girls fall into line to play or feign the geisha, so to speak. Same mentality as “southern belle” thinking. Basically, these young people have not experienced a healthy environment to develop their own identities. They seem to have a big “hole in the soul” as the songwriter says. Fraternities = rich kids = often rich kids have a rough time, they relate to few, and come from households where nobody is at home for them and “a new car”= love, celebration, and happiness, but “I am gay” or an expressed work of art is alien, ignored, not valued. I’m jumping around here a little, but rich homes tend to be so due to powerful often single-minded parent people who are occupied with business and such, have little room or interest for developmental needs of young person outside of a force-formula for life that works, “look at me.” The other thing, when parents are money or industry titans, this leaves little room for distinction for the children. Or, to put it another way, being the child of Pablo Picasso could be a difficult thing for a child’s psychology to “make something of themselves.” Peasant children are in some ways in an enviable situation, as there is nowhere to go, but up up up. -Stories of Pablo Picasso’s son going to see him, going to gate/ wall outside the house and pressing the button on the speaker and dad says, “I’m busy. Get lost.”

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
4:54 pm

Already Sheared, I, ugh, missed that show. You ought to see the movie, “Idiocracy.” First viewing, I thought it was dumb. Second viewing, completely brilliant. Another potent lampoon that is worth seeing is “War, Inc.” although the reviews are not so good, there is a lot of valid in the movie.

Here you go, the full Monty, “Idiocracy” http://vimeo.com/55544852

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
5:06 pm

Here’s a portion of “War, Inc.” (2008), not unlike the Duke party, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTIw78eCDAI although the main emphasis is corporate nature of empire war department exploits.

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
5:11 pm

Someone should mention Sacha Baron Cohen and the possible influence of the “Borat” movies on the culturally-available-to-be-influenced fraternity crowd. “Borat” made a fortune crudely spoofing cultures and sex identities, but the fraternity gets busted for it. Maybe someone can explain how that works. The same people busting the fraternity likely did not step to the plate and bust “Borat.”

Prof

February 8th, 2013
5:17 pm

The fraternity wasn’t spoofing.

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
5:22 pm

I had a lefty friend who would be the type to pile on to faulting the fraternity, and yet the same person was big fan of “Ali G.” show from the beginning when I had not heard of it, and the follow-up “Borat” character movies, and a lot of that stuff is really harsh and also makes use of people through real-life situation lying to people while filming them.

It is of note that his wife is a college professor who teaches identity politics to college freshman at a public university. Nice people. She does what’s on the syllabus. She didn’t write the syllabus emphasis or content. She is a redelivery artist and appears to be completely unaware of it, but is obviously very good at following the department directives.

AlreadySheared

February 8th, 2013
7:25 pm

@Private Citizen,
Hmm… abreviates to “PC” for short. Thoroughly enjoyed “Idiocracy” as well. “Team America” was made by Matt Parker and Trey Stone, who bring us “South Park”. Bless them. The entire movie is performed by puppets.

A snippet of “Team America” dialogue which is not obscene (lots of it is):

Kim Jong Il: Hans Brix? Oh no! Oh, herro. Great to see you again, Hans!

Hans Blix: Mr. Il, I was supposed to be allowed to inspect your palace today, but your guards won’t let me enter certain areas.

Kim Jong Il: Hans, Hans, Hans! We’ve been frew this a dozen times. I don’t have any weapons of mass destwuction, OK Hans?

Hans Blix: Then let me look around, so I can ease the UN’s collective mind. I’m sorry, but the UN must be firm with you. Let me in, or else.

Kim Jong Il: Or else what?

Hans Blix: Or else we will be very angry with you… and we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are.

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
7:35 pm

There’s quite a lot of people in the USA who are in the business of manufacturing victims and getting other people into the cult of victimology. For once, if someone else is “victim” then that makes you better than them, or that makes you lucky, or superior, of whole, whereas they are not.

cult: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator

My friend from China who came to the US, taught himself to speak English and got a master’s degree in computer science he would laugh at all of this. He would probably think a “chink” party is funny. He used to make a joke himself. When he saw someone with a sweatshirt that said “USA” is big letters, he would run up to them and say “University of Southern Alabama” and laugh. He said people in pickup trucks used to yell at him and threaten him when he was walking down the sidewalk. I think he’s got the last laugh with his high-tech job in Alpharetta, and he laughs a lot.

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
7:56 pm

AlreadySheared, I knew this really smart anti-everything chick born . raised in Augusta, and she was much into the early Ren and Stimpy cartoons which got neutered / depowered / banned / ruined, etc. I don’t watch television, so it didn’t make any difference to me. I see this from a web search: “Cartoon Violence – This episode of Ren and Stimpy is said to have led to the firing of its creator – John Kricfalusi.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XP7mmtkUonc

I don’t think many people realise how brainwashed USA has become to keep it in the middle lane, and that lane keeps getting smaller and tighter. Even well meaning people do this now. As someone said about conditions for youth: you’ve got two choices: either it is illegal, or it is what we tell you what to do.

PS You ought to see John Cusack movie, War, Inc. (2008). 2 out 5 stars in the reviews, but they got a lot of things right in that movie.

Regarding spoofing Kim Jong, II, the music entertainer PSY is friends with him, and PSY writes in better standard English than maybe you or I ever will. I haven’t given much thought to “fixing North Korea.” Reading a business magazine article of first person report of priorities and methods for top-10 successful entrepreneurs, and comparing it to the action of Georgia government education management and their federal friends sort of blew all of my mental fuses and not in a good way. It was as if the actions of ed. management are basically the opposite of what the successfull entrepreneurs say, at least in a couple of cases. To keep it real, here are two examples: 1) do less 2) do not make declarations that are void of strategy (in other words, real world methods to “get there”) and call this strategy.

The second one just blew my mind, all of these vain-glorious proclamations and demands, a whole top-to-bottom management culture of this indulgence, combined with no damn tools to get the job done. Somebody shot-out in a crack house has more cause and integrity than the official education culture pulling this stunt. “Do the HIGH JUMP.Where’s the pole?

And then when the high jumper shows up, all of these fakes turn their back in shame and mumble to each other.

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
8:01 pm

should be “pole vault” but you get the idea.

Private Citizen

February 8th, 2013
8:45 pm

Hey prof, Reading through the attached documents, those Duke frat people are really obnoxious. I can see how Chinese students on campus would not care for it. I keep wanting to figure out something a little deeper though, I do not think the race thing is the main part of it, there is something bigger, more substantial going on. Immaturity? Inappropriate use of power? Having wealth and power and simply lacking purpose and nobility? Crude sense of creativity and art, how to party and use art in a relevant way? This seems to be what is missing, a general sense of relevance from those who should have so much to offer. In a distant way, makes me to think of how 50% of Harvard grads go to work in finance. 50%! That’s half the output of the whole university!