Dear fraternity members,
This letter is not addressed to you because I have some grudge against you. I acknowledge that you all do not comprise a single monolithic group, and I would never, for example, throw a party where I asked people to dress up like slutty versions of you (come dressed as a slutty DKE, a slutty SNu or just a total….)
I am not saying that all the problems are campus are your fault, because I recognize for that anything “bad” that I don’t “like” that there are Greeks and non-Greeks do it, and the root problems that create these “bad things” are obviously bigger and older than your chapter’s founding date.
From my casual observation of the Chronicle over the last few years though, it seems like you gentlemen tend to have a bad habit of throwing parties whose themes or invitation get you in hot water:
- Pilgrims and Indians, Pi Kappa Phi, requesting the attendance of “hot natives” and “pocahotness” November 2011
- Viva Mexico, Sigma Chi, featured a border control station, fliers with a expired green cards marked “Issued by Sigma Chi” and advertising displaying fat Mexican men with sombreros and alcohol bottles. 2003
- Hunters and Hunter, unnamed Duke sorority and fraternity, October 2010
- “Dress up like a slutty nurse, a slutty doctor, a slutty school girl, or just a totals slut,” Sigma Nu, October 2010:
- South of the Border mixer, cohosted by SAE and Pi Phi, 1994
- An invitation to “ all potential slam pieces,” ADPhi, October 2010
- Carnal Knowledge party, advertised with a flyer showing one naked man surrounded by three naked women and the sentence “Possess the Body You Desire” September 1993, Phi Delt
- “Thinking we should make that fence down south a little taller? Pissed about a certain group of easterners f—ing up the curve in Econ 51?… Well it’s time to get over your fears and join the brothers of Pi Kappa Alpha for a truly unique tour of the world.” Pi Kappa Alpha, January 2010
- Invitation sent to “BabyGurlz,” KA, March 2010
- Rapper’s Delight Party, formerly known as Ghetto Fabulous Party, ATO
- Asian Party, KSig, December 2011
So, of 16 IFC fraternities, at least 8 have gotten public heat for having offensive party themes and invitations. We might subtract SAE, since the party in question predates their current chapter, and add in Ksig and ADPhi, two off-campus fraternities to get 9 of 18 Duke “historically white” (is that OK to say? At one point, basically all of these fraternities were all-white, so it seems accurate) fraternities currently in the business of fraternizing that have received negative scrutiny for their party themes.
Now, you could draw several conclusions from this. A critic might say “many Duke fraternities are racially or culturally insensitive and/or disrespectful towards women, perhaps endemic of a ‘fraternity culture.’” A supporter might say “people are reading too much into our party themes, and we receive excessive scrutiny because of stereotypes about fraternities.”
Whether your group is trying to make an environment that is more accepting of all sorts of people and wants to facilitate a community of equals, or whether you just want to avoid getting in trouble, here are some suggestions that if you follow in advance, will substantially mitigate the likelihood that your group is criticized:
- Avoid party invitations that suggest the men will be one group and that women will be another group. Office Party == Not a problem. CEOs and Corporate Hoes Party == problem. Thanksgiving Party == probably not a problem. Women are sexy Native Americans who will come into the Pilgrims tee-pees for a cornucopia of treats == definitely a problem. Jungle party == not a problem. Hunter and Hunted party == problem. Luau==not a problem. Hawaiian princesses and European explorers party ==problem.
- Avoid party invitations that make reference to both an empowered group and a disempowered group or two parties that engaged in an contentious crisis resulting in many people’s deaths. Mexican fiesta/Cinco de Mayo Party == not necessarily a problem. Throw in fraternity brothers dressed as border patrol == a problem. Nava-hoes and conquistabros party ==also a problem. Pilgrim Party == not necessarily a problem. Pilgrims and Indians Party == problem. St. Patrick’s Day Party == not necessarily a problem. Irish Catholics and British Protestants party == almost definitely a problem. Greek Party==not necessarily a problem. Greeks and Turks Party == probably a problem
- Avoid explicitly requesting that women dress sluttily or sexily. If women want to dress in a way that you happen to find desirable? Great! That is not a problem. Demanding that they come dressed in a way that you happen to find desirable? That is a problem. Beyond the adjectives, if a noun refers explicitly to the fact that the woman may or may not want to have sex with you (slampiece, ho), it is also not ok.
Great! Now we have three quick heuristics for knowing when a party invitation is not OK. To recap:
(1) Did I tell women that they were supposed to be sexy or slutty if they wanted to come to my party?
(2) Did my party make reference to a powerful group and a disempowered group or two groups that engaged in a contentious crisis resulting in many peoples deaths?
(3) Did I divide my party guests or attendees into two groups, male and female, and imply two different standards of behavior or dress for the two groups?
And there we have it!
Does this explicitly prevent you from still possibly doing something that could be hurtful to other people? No. Your kindergarden teacher also probably did not enumerate every possible crime on her “Classroom Rules” list. It should however provide a broad and sweeping overview of things that almost definitely will hurt or offend some people.
Let’s say you want to have an event to engage in the rich culture of another group, an event to learn more about the cultural heritage and traditions of another group, or an event to better understand the complex history of oppression their group might have experienced. This is by no means off-limits. Instead of throwing a themed party about their group, you could try contacting members in that group (perhaps via their organized campus presence if it exists, and chances are it does), ask them what they think would be interesting or what would help facilitate dialogue, invite them over, ideally but, hey, not necessarily during the day time, and not request that be dressed as slutty versions of themselves.
A Duke Progressive Female
[Edit 6:30 pm 12/6: Thanks to those who helped me track down documentation of the Asian party (Develle Dish) and for the Ghetto Fabulous party]