The independent news organization of Duke University

Duke student protestors demand 'apology of action'

Organized via Facebook, hundreds of Duke students gathered at the West Campus bus stop for a demonstration protesting Kappa Sigma’s controversial Asian party theme.
Organized via Facebook, hundreds of Duke students gathered at the West Campus bus stop for a demonstration protesting Kappa Sigma’s controversial Asian party theme.

Hundreds of students demanded active reparations from Kappa Sigma fraternity at a Wednesday afternoon protest against the controversial party held last week.

The protest served as an extension of the flier campaign that occurred Tuesday morning, which brought campus-wide attention to the party. The fraternity drew criticism for hosting an “International Relations” party that invoked Asian stereotypes in the invitations and costumes worn at the event. Students also participated in a civil discussion Wednesday night about the racial tensions that have continued to resurface on Duke’s campus.

“No longer can the social norms of this university be determined by a small group of people,” senior Ting-Ting Zhou, president of the Asian Students Association, said at the protest. “The dominant definition of ‘fun’ has poisoned this community for the past few years, and we must re-establish fairness and equality on this campus.”

By early afternoon Wednesday, the national organization of the Kappa Sigma fraternity had suspended the operations of the Eta Prime chapter. A statement from the fraternity’s Executive Director Mitchell Wilson, said that the fraternity is currently investigating the chapter’s Feb. 1 party. The chapter allegedly violated the Code of Conduct of Kappa Sigma and committed “Conduct Unbecoming a Chapter of Kappa Sigma.”

The statement asserts that all activities of the chapter must cease until the investigation is complete and until decisions are made regarding disciplinary actions.

Senior Luke Keohane, Kappa Sigma Eta Prime chapter president was unavailable for comment in time for publication.

“An apology of action”

The student protest lasted about twenty minutes and included calls for a new task force to deal with incidents like the party, as well as 10 hours of community service from each member of Kappa Sigma. The rally was organized by the Asian American Alliance, and speakers included members of the Asian Students Association and Blue Devils United.

The rally featured several student speakers including Zhou, a senior, BDU President Jacob Tobia, a junior, and AAA co-presidents Tong Xiang, a senior, and Kat Zhang. Zhang, a junior, also serves as chair of The Chronicle’s independent editorial board.

The student speakers led protest attendees in a series of chants such as “No more hate, make Duke great,” and, “Hateful parties make no sense, don’t party at our expense.” One speaker also read aloud the original email sent by Kappa Sigma on Jan. 29 to invite students to the party, which was originally dubbed “Asia Prime.”

“It is not an apology of words we desire,” senior Ashley Tsai said to the crowd, “but an apology of action.”

More than 250 people were in attendance near the West Campus bus stop, forming a large circle around the speakers and a poster reading “RACE IS NOT A PARTY.” Zhou made it clear to the crowd that the offense taken by students on campus ran deeper than Friday’s event.

“This protest is about the destructive prejudice that must be uprooted from every corner of Duke to make this place an inclusive and safe place for all,” Zhou read from a pre-written statement.

Zhou and Tobia concluded the demonstration by reading aloud a letter they had composed to Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta with demands for change. The letter calls for the establishment of a Group Bias Incident Task Force constituted of leaders of organizations representing groups that historically have been marginalized. The goal of the GBITF, the letter said, is to “adjudicate punitive measures” for similar incidents that may happen in the future.

The letter also demands that the members of Kappa Sigma participate in a community social justice project consisting of 10 volunteer hours each to causes approved by the Center for Multicultural Affairs or else face immediate de-chartering.

“We believe that the administration must hold Kappa Sigma fraternity accountable for their actions,” the letter reads. “Through requiring Kappa Sigma to apologize through reparative action, Duke will set an important precedent that this behavior is unacceptable in the Duke community.”

Not all in the crowd were moved by the emotional demonstrations. Sophomore Fedja Pavlovic called the outcry over the party and the resulting protests “ridiculous.”

“In the Western world, racism has become a deadly word and screaming it, just relying on the intensity of the word, is a just really good way to gain public recognition,” Pavlovic said. “Being able to joke about one culture is a sign of maturity. I’ve seen it in my own country [Montenegro] and in America more and more. It’s a good thing.”

Tobia said that the chapter’s suspension by the national organization will not affect the plans he and other students have in creating a more tolerant community. He said that Moneta and other key members of the administration seemed inclined to cooperate.

“The national decision is between the fraternity and the national chapter,” Tobia said. “The requests that we made today for the community social justice project and the GBITF pertain to the Duke community. Those are very important steps for the administration to take regardless of the national chapter.”

Time to learn

The open discussion hosted Wednesday night by the ASA and Duke Student Government took a quieter tone than the fervent protesting of the afternoon. Members of a coalition formed in response to the controversy—including Tsai and Zhou—and Keohane led discussion of several questions including, “Why was this party invitation and event hurtful?” “What are the implications of this as it relates to race on this campus? Why does it matter?” and “What has KSig learned from this?”

Members of the audience were allowed and encouraged to respond to the questions after Keohane and the coalition had a chance to respond. Many students shared personal stories of experience with racism, which were greeted with emotional encouragement and applause from the audience.

“Our actions are inexcusable,” Keohane said to the large crowd gathered in McClendon 5, who also garnered applause for his remarks throughout the night. “We’re not here because we want to defend ourselves. We’re here because we want to learn.”

At least 10 Kappa Sigma brothers, in addition to Keohane, were in attendance of the discussion, including one graduated member. University officials excluded national media from entering the room and filming the event.

Some students brought attention to another aspect of the controversy: the use of Facebook photos of students at the party, which Tsai, Xiang and Zhou included in the fliers posted Tuesday morning. Zhou again reiterated that the photos had already gained more than 100 likes on Facebook and were easily visible by thousands.

Senior Jaimie Woo, a columnist for The Chronicle, said she was hopeful after hearing the diversity of what people said at the discussion and the boundaries that were pushed by the discussion, but she questioned the long-term effects of the efforts made.

“This is over. So now what?” she said. “There’s been a lot of movement, progression and discussion. But what are the solutions and where are we going with this?”

Plans are already in the works to host additional discussions on the topic as it pertains to Duke in general beyond this single incident, Zhang said.

“Hopefully some of this has sunk in,” Zhang said. “After hearing the members of KSig talk, I really think they’ve thought long and hard about what the effects of the party are, and some real change will come out of this.”


Share and discuss “Duke student protestors demand 'apology of action'” on social media.