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Tension over "Asia Prime" party

In the wake of the political fallout following the “Pilgrims and Indians” party of 2011, I was pleasantly surprised at the mostly progressive response from Duke’s student body. I had hoped that such an instance would have sent a clear message: that Duke as an institution and a student body would not condone such racism—even in the lighthearted party atmosphere it was intended for. Clear or not, Duke’s chapter of Kappa Sigma fraternity threw a party this year much in the same vein. Called “Asia Prime,” it was advertised in a similar “witty” tone:

“Herro Nice Duke Peopre!! We are proud to announce the return of Kappa Sigma Asia Prime, this Friday! We look forward to having Mi, Yu, You and Yo Friends over for some Sake. ... Chank You”

While it was not the first year this particular race-themed party was thrown, the Asian American community responded for the first time this year. Filing several complaints with the Center for Multicultural Affairs and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, student activists were met with this correspondence from KSig:

“The Brothers of Kappa Sigma regret to inform you that our forebrothers’ secrets of the Far East have not survived the move back onto campus. Without them, Asia Prime cannot go on and must be cancelled. Instead, Kappa Sigma presents: International Relations. A celebration of all cultures and the diversity of Duke.”

There was of course no apology for the racist language in the previous email, and perhaps an overdose of self-righteous sarcasm. The party unofficially continued with its original theme and little concern for racial sensitivity, as seen by images of partygoers uploaded to Facebook.

In the days following the party, student activists from all over campus convened unofficially in an attempt to flyer Duke’s campus with evidence of last week’s racism. Over a thousand fliers were printed and distributed for flyering among the group. One student however, was found to be less than interested in exposing KSig’s actions—it was determined he was never invited to the group, and was more interested in persuading the group not to blow things out of proportion or ruin KSig’s image.

KSig seemed to have a vested interest in the events that happened the following morning. Almost immediately after more than a thousand fliers were posted simultaneously across campus, they were taken down by students. These actions were caught on camera, though several student activists ran into a little trouble while documenting the backlash, as some reacted negatively to activists’ attempts at documentation.

The lengths to which KSig empathizers seem to have gone to hide their actions from campus attention is disgusting­—possibly employing a saboteur, and destroying incriminating materials.

In the following days, students groups both cultural and otherwise have collaborated to find a collective voice and peaceful solution. Backing the Asian Students Association in their attempts to create campuswide dialogue, the BSA, National Pan-Hellenic Council and college administrators, among others, offered statements of solidarity. As the days progress, we can only hope that meaningful dialogue—but more importantly, institutional redress—are in the near future.

As we consider how Pi Kappa Phi fraternity’s “Pilgrims and Indians” party obtained a similar campuswide attention only last year, we can only guess why race-themed parties such as “Asia Prime” and “BET (Black Entertainment Television)” continue to happen.

It is deplorable to suggest that for whatever reason, Asians are a suitable target for a race-themed party, whereas Native Americans are somehow “now” out of the question. More likely is perhaps the brothers of KSig had not expected any major backlash from the Asian community or the rest of their Duke peers. I would like to hope that the brothers understood the racist nature of their actions. Thankfully, the greater Duke population seems to understand the depravity of their peers’ actions and have come together to uphold justice and human decency.

Diversity, ethnically or racially, is not a commodity to be mockingly made the theme of a party. Asians, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans all exist as people beyond skin color and television tropes. To define our identity is essential—it is how we are marked in the pyramid of America. To those who wish to define it for us, your actions de-humanize and partition our normality. We are people, and we have a right to enjoy this campus without being degraded.

Simon Ho is a Trinity senior and the vice president of cultural affairs for the Asian Students Assosiation.

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