Members of the University's Latino community are furious over Sigma Chi fraternity's "Viva Mexico" party, held last Saturday night.
The concerned students and faculty said they see the party--which included invitations in the form of expired green cards and a "border control" at the door--as derogatory towards Mexicans and Latinos, and as a continuing example of how Latinos are marginalized on campus and beyond.
"It isn't just this one weekend; it isn't just Sigma Chi. I've been here three years and this is the straw that broke the camel's back," said Omar Rashid, a joint-MDJD candidate and president of the Duke Hispanic/Latino Law Student Association.
To some, the party seemed innocent and well-intentioned.
In an e-mail, Sigma Chi president Marc Mattioli wrote that the event was "designed to be a light-hearted representation of the Mexican tourism scene."
Still, Mattioli said his fraternity takes responsibility for its actions.
"We are fully aware that mistakes were made in the presentation of our party and we are taking steps internally to make sure that this situation does not arise again," he wrote. "We are very apologetic to the Latino community at Duke and any others that found offense in our actions."
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Sandra Sanchez, president of Lambda Pi Chi sorority, said that she had not spoken with anyone from Sigma Chi, but felt that whatever their reasoning, certain respectful decisions should have been made.
"Even if [the party] were meant to be fun, they should have thought about the consequences," Sanchez said.
This is not the first time that Latino students have spoken out against social events they viewed as belittling to the Latino community. In October 1994, members of Mi Gente requested that Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and Pi Beta Phi sorority change the name of its annual "South of the Border" mixer, noting that the name of the event used derogatory stereotypes.
Sanchez said she hoped the Latino community would make a formal request to have Sigma Chi held responsible in the greek system. "They should be held accountable for their acts and how they portray greek life," she said.
Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, said that bad judgment on the part of Sigma Chi did not necessarily warrant a judicial response.
"Being stupid is not necessarily a violation," he said.
Moneta added that his office is reviewing its own registration process so it can ask better questions to avoid registering events that could be inappropriate.
"We have to be able to anticipate when events could be controversial or inappropriate and use our advisory role to help. We don't want to strong-arm students," Moneta said.
Although he pointed out that his staff was not aware that some ideas for the party had grown more offensive, Moneta said, "If we had pointed out to Sigma Chi that this event could have been [deemed] inappropriate, they would have changed [the event]."
Latino community members met Monday to decide what actions to take in response to the party, and wrote a letter to the editor of The Chronicle, which runs today on page 14.
Rumors have circulated since the party about the existence of a fraternity-sanctioned and -sold tee-shirt that represented Mexicans in a derogatory manner. The rumor was discredited, although the idea had been discussed among Sigma Chi members, eventually being struck down in favor of a dancing jalapeño holding a bottle, fraternity officials said.
"As a Latino and first generation American, I am even more disheartened by the ramifications of our party," Mattioli said. "I feel that I have let down members of both the Latino and greek communities. Nonetheless, I think my own actions and the actions of Sigma Chi in general will show this to be a momentary lapse in judgment and not a true indication of the values of our members."
Mattioli also sent a note to Mi Gente co-president Sara Hudson, who said she appreciated the gesture.
"There isn't a personal vendetta with Sigma Chi... people really do want to talk to them," Hudson said.
Hudson stressed the importance of open discussion in developing a greater understanding of the Latino community.
"The ignorance is where people don't see [the party] as an issue, [while] many people do see this as an issue. That's where you really need the discussion," she said. "People don't see how this is really important."
Hudson added that a Mi Gente meeting, open to all members of the community, is scheduled for this coming weekend, and the party and its ramifications will likely be addressed.
Todd Adams, assistant dean for greek life, said the chapter recognizes the event was planned with poor judgment, and that it does not reflect on the brotherhood itself.
"As a Duke greek community we are committed to creating dialogue and community as a whole," Adams said, pointing to the various multicultural- and diversity-themed programming greek organizations plan regularly. "It reminds us that we have a lot more work to do on behalf of a genuinely accepting campus environment."