Last month the Phi Gamma Delta chapter at the University of Texas threw a party that some students are complaining crossed a line — specifically the Rio Grande. The affair, described as a “border patrol” party, drew criticism after the Daily Texan, UT’s student newspaper, confirmed that some guests at the event had dressed in ponchos and sombreros, while others wore construction uniforms with Hispanic name tags.
The response among students was predictable. Sophomore Nick Habel told USA Today:
I think [the event] was racist and offensive. People need to be more educated and less offensive. It seems like people don’t realize these things are offensive or harmful, so they think it’s OK to have racist themed parties.
Junior Nathaniel Belachew echoed Habel’s sentiments:
I always assume that after an event like this, especially at such a diverse university, there would be better communication about improving race relations. Events like these are affecting other people.
The outrage grew after Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly determined last Thursday that no campus rules had been violated at the party. In response to a question posed via Twitter, the official UT-Austin account said:
@imnothoracio While the behavior doesn’t mirror UT core values, it’s within students’ right to freedom of speech at private off campus event
— UT Austin (@UTAustin) February 27, 2015
Sophomore Diana Padilla commented:
Hugely disappointed with UT’s response to the racist Fiji [Phi Gamma Delta] party earlier this month. How can minorities hope to feel respected in an institution of higher learning when things like this go unpunished? Such a big let down by a school I love so much.
A petition organized by a group that identified itself as Latino Community Affairs drew over 400 signatures in support of its condemnation of the decision. The letter also urged Phi Gamma Delta to “take the lead in setting a positive and inclusive atmosphere by moving away from throwing these types of themed parties. Instead, they should focus on events that celebrate the richness and diversity of the student body rather than single out particular groups for ridicule.”