ASU Frat's "MLK Black Party" Defended by Black Civil Rights Advocate

Categories: News
January 22, 2014

Michael M. Crow
President
Arizona State University
Office of the President
Mail Code 7705
P.O. Box 877705
Tempe, AZ

Dear President Crow:

I have been following the controversy and demands from the local civil rights leaders there for university officials to take disciplinary action against the students who organized, attended, or otherwise participated in the ASU Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity's "MLK Black Party."

As we understand, from the press reports, college officials have already suspended the ASU Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter for its allegedly "racist" antics and for its take-off on so-called "black cultural stereotypes." As we further gather, from news reports, the students at the frat's "MLK Black Party" mocked black culture by, ahem, "acting black," "dressing black," "drinking from watermelon cups" and by some students having used at the frat party the "N" word (See The State Press, January 21, 2014). The various press reports also represent that university officials as having said that such insulting or offensive "conduct" is not only "inappropriate" but must be punished.

I also understand--from the quoting of your spokesperson--Ms. Julie Newberg--that the TKE frat party was held OFF CAMPUS, and that because of [this] incident, ASU has suspended chapter operations, and that the university "can and will take additional action against the individuals involved..."

If any of the above recitation of the facts or errant, please inform me directly and immediately. Assuming the press reports are correct, local civil rights activists are, in our considered judgment, wrong to demand disciplinary action--including and up to expulsion of the students who "insulted" Dr. King and who mocked so-called "black culture." Moreover, as I understand from your university's description of itself, ASU is a public university. As such it is obligated to uphold the constitutional rights of its students to free speech and association. It is--and you are--obligated to counter any blowback that would violate the free speech and association rights of your students, no matter that their speech has insulted or offended some or many on campus. As a the leader of an institution of higher education you also have an obligation to teach about constitutional guarantees, as well as to correct misstatements of facts and history. I, for one, truly doubt that Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. himself would have opined that the students who poked fun at-or "disrespected" the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday or who, for that matter, mocked so-called "black culture"--should be punished in any way. Dr. King as a civil rights advocate intrinsically knew the power and the underpinnings of the First Amendment--and of its value as a tool to advance social change and the education of the masses, and for its absolute preservation and necessity to rebut racial idiocy.

Censorship was not Dr. King's philosophy or his tactic. He believed in robust debate and as an intellectual he was not afraid of--and did not shrink from--confronting ideas that were at variance with his own beliefs or which he deemed morally bankrupt. He never, for instance, called for the banning of "hate speech." He was pilloried with much worse than vilification.

As a public institution of higher learning, ASU should also be in the business of upholding due process rights. This means that students of whatever skin color need to know--in advance--what behavior or "speech" is subject to your disciplinary code. In this connection, none of the press reports I have read--and none of the statements I have read from representatives of the university--have stated exactly or specifically how the students who either organized or attended or participated in the racial hi-jinks violated any community standard or code of conduct. Yet they have been threatened with suspension if not expulsion for merely attending or participating in free speech activities that others (non-members and maybe even some members of the frat) deem "inappropriate," "tasteless," or "racist." I ask that you let us know what is in your college's student handbook or code of conduct that would justify your university placing prior restraints on students' free speech and association rights at a public university--restraints on students' speech--as a matter of fact--that took place off campus.

On or off campus, is it your position that any student or group of students--be they be black or white--who engage in parody, mockery or who mimic and/or show disrespect for another group's culture or the stereotypes about that group are to be subjected to disciplinary action?

Is this your position if the "offensive" students were black and, not white, and who, say, had had a hillbilly or Duck Dynasty Party at which they poked fun at those cultural stereotypes? Would your stance in such circumstances be to say to the black students--"This is idiotic and foolish conduct and you must be punished for mocking white culture!"?--or would you take an educational approach--and urge civility and teach how such stereotyping demeans the human character and embarrasses the university that seeks to teach about individuality and that exists in order to help extirpate prejudices and stereotypes of all kinds? Would your higher education mission in such circumstances be advanced or set back through the university's resort to punishment as the "teaching" tool?

If there are "community standards" that racial parody or mockery violate, we'd like to review them. We think you would be hard pressed to defend much less impose such punishment for "offensive" speech, before or after the fact, for controversial speech--on or off campus, when the prohibition or punishment is put to First Amendment scrutiny. Everything I have read about the antics of the frat's MLK Black Party appear to us as protected First Amendment activity. I know of no hazing or violence involved with the frat party. So, please explain to us--and to the students--why their party was not entitled to the full protection of the First Amendment. As Robert Shibley of F.I.R.E. (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) explained to the DAILY CALLER:

"At public colleges, the First Amendment prohibits punishments based solely on the subjective offensiveness of student expression."

Shibley advised, rightly, that those who took offense at the frat's party should voice their concerns, rather than censor or punish the offenders. He added,

"Parties with controversial themes pop up on campuses every year. The right response to speech we don't like is more speech, not censorship or punishment."

We agree.

What I don't understand is why you as a leader of a higher education institution--a public university that must respect and uphold the First Amendment rights of your students--have not yet said something akin to what FIRE's Robert Shibley has said about this matter. If you have--or if any of your spokespersons have done so--I would welcome your sharing with us your or their full statements.

As of now, I am concerned and disappointed with ASU's response to this "incident." We are especially disappointed with the statements from the local civil rights activists who have urged--through a demand on the university--that students be expelled for their having "dressed like blacks," "acted like blacks," and used the "N' word. As you well know, some black youths, including black students--whether they're mocking black culture or not--use the "N" word quite often. I have heard white and Hispanic youths employ the "N" word as well, jokingly, mockingly, and in everyday discourse and in situations that did not involve parody. The culture is forever changing--and there cannot be one standard of "offensiveness" for one racial or identity group and another standard for others when it comes to judging which words and what kind of speech are "inappropriate."

You might want to ask the local civil rights leaders there this question--"Haven't you ever heard of the First Amendment?" You might add, "This is a public university and we have obligations to respect the free speech rights of all our students. We will use our free speech to disassociate our university from such antics--but we cannot and will not suspend or expel students for expressive activities based solely on subjective standards of offensiveness."

Civil rights leaders ought to understand that the fundamentals of civil rights advocacy and equal protection principles are buttressed by our dedication and commitment to free speech. Censorship--attempts at banning words that invoke our outrage or that show others' ignorance as "inappropriate, as "racist," as "hate" speech--is always defeated as too subjective, too broad, and as too contemptuous of free speech rights.

Please feel free to circulate this letter to your university officials and college community. In the meantime, I await your response.

With best wishes, I am

Sincerely yours,

Michael Meyers
Executive Director

cc: James Rund, Senior Vice President for Educational outreach and Student Services

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My Voice Nation Help
79 comments
v.faye.miller
v.faye.miller

Would someone PLEASE tell me what is the deal with blacks and watermelon and fried chicken? They do not fricking own them! I am white. I have eaten watermelon and fried chicken my whole life, so why is it considered so offensive for blacks to eat good food too. Also, why is it considered racist if you use watermelon or even the WORD watermelon within 5 feet of blacks? Don't you boring, repetitive, cry baby idiots EVER grow up? You HAVE to see racism else you would be lost. Racism is your guiding star. It HAS to be there or you would be irrelevent. Sad.

Kenny Tibbs
Kenny Tibbs

And furthermore... any of you assholes that have ever had a mixed drink in a coconut must hate hawiians too

Kenny Tibbs
Kenny Tibbs

Oh screw all of you offended by that party..... guess what... I'm having mixed drinks out of a hollowed out small watermelon with a black friend of mine right now. You uppity self centered pricks are what is wrong with the world today. Mind your own fucking business and you'll be fine. You can have an opinion on whatever you want but guess what... no one but you and the other assholes that think like you care. Go fuck yourself and your opinions on what other free white and 21 people do. That is all.

Elias De la Concha III
Elias De la Concha III

People need to learn that their actions do affect other people. So be careful what you say and do, its not always just about you..!

James Ryan Fennelly
James Ryan Fennelly

Yes they should be punished. They're supposed to be elite college students; capable of seeing past the popular stereotypes marketed by mainstream media and design for positive influences and change regarding equality.

Raymond Tucker
Raymond Tucker

If the 47 black people who live in Arizona don't care, why should anyone else?

Jo Ellen Birt McNamara
Jo Ellen Birt McNamara

It may be First Amendment but when you are representing a national fraternity, and you're on the fence for an organized crime charge for "ordering" physical violence against another fraternity....I don't think too many people are gonna jump in to support your racist antics.

Pete Diaz
Pete Diaz

We have to decipher and respond because it seems every form of free speech becomes a political agenda. And that 5%, the politicians, have us brainwashed to believe on how to respond that's why we as individuals have to make our own internal assertion !!

Pete Diaz
Pete Diaz

Feeling offended is an integral part of our constitutional rights ! It's up to us how we decipher and respond to that !

Pete Diaz
Pete Diaz

Right James Hill,just a bunch of college kids acting out in a college environment ! All of you who have been to college or are in college, think about it. He who has not sinned throw the first stone ! Free thinking and speech!

James Hill
James Hill

hey, they were just celebrating the culture.

James Hill
James Hill

I agree. What's up with Crowe. No questions and kicks a 65 year old entity off campus to appease civil rights foks. It is insane the dude has no huevos

David Lopez
David Lopez

You ain't gonna tell me blondie don't like her some darkness

DNichols
DNichols

Come on Man, this is Arizona!

"The Desert Racist Wasteland."

These kids are now automaticly qualified as upper management at the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office.

They just need to learn how to Shackle Hispanic chain gangs to be marched in front of Arpaio's Media Circus.

The Arizona G.O.P. can now teach them to Baptise Neo Nazi's.

Jan Brewer will probably award them some kind of Goverors Office Medal.

Arturo Yescas
Arturo Yescas

1st amendment prevents you from bring arrested. Asu has every right to take away their legitimacy as they have become a liability to the schools in a state with an already tarnished race relations record, and the last state to recognize mlk day. Try to look at the bigger picture before crying injustice

Lew Level
Lew Level

Get over it BET always shows the movie "white Girls". They didn't put on black face did they? As Forst Gump said "sorry for interrupting your black panther party".

Arturo Yescas
Arturo Yescas

At first it didn't make any sense but when I saw that he was a Fox News contributor I was like- oh ok... I didn't bother reading the rest.

Michael Herrera
Michael Herrera

This is stupid from the get-go.. ASU is going way overboard over a party.. That looked like a get together not a party!! Besides if your feelings got hurt over other people actions that did nothing to you personally is stupid!! So fucking sick of politicly correctness it makes me want to puke!!!

Dennis Russell
Dennis Russell

The kids can do what they want, even if it is coarse or tasteless. Likewise, the university can take whatever actions they deem appropriate. Good on ASU and President Crowe.

Mary Doe
Mary Doe

It is up to the University to decide to keep the students who are current and potential liability or not. They are not being incarcerated or even threatened with incarceration. Being expelled from a school is not 'pretty violent.' And stretching 'the First Amendment' all the way to ridiculous really has to stop.

Steve Hoffman
Steve Hoffman

!000 hours of sensitivity training would be right

Lindsey Christine Carpenter
Lindsey Christine Carpenter

It's a fair point that if the students had held a hillbilly or Duck Dynasty party, the would not be this backlash.

John Ryden
John Ryden

no... they should have a sitcom... prime time

جورج کارامانا
جورج کارامانا

To be honest if this same fraternity dressed in powdered wigs, 18th Century coats, and talked like Early Americans for President's Day, I don't think one person would complain: The root of this whole bullshit is a bunch of local black church leaders trying to get publicity for themselves or their congregations.

Rick Fowler
Rick Fowler

It comes down to policy, regardless of whether or not your are disgusted with what these students did. Most importantly, the frat was already on social suspension. TKE's ties to ASU are permanently revoked for infringing on (not one or two but) FOUR violations of the student code of conduct. I believe the punishment of this event was well suited to the codes it violated, especially since the event occurred while TKE was on social suspension. However, in order to support further punishment of these young adults you need to ask yourself two things--first, what LAW did they break? Did they break any laws and to what extent are their actions protected by the 1st Amendment? Secondly, if your child was in the shoes of these students, is it possible that the social justice is punishment enough? We're all talking about it online (and we represent a small fraction). How soon do you think any of these students are going to get employment anywhere in Arizona after what's happened? It is likely that since national media has picked up on this story that these young people have ruined their lives possibly beyond state borders by making very poor, highly insensitive choices (and further mistakes by allowing it to be documented and posted publicly). The students made an ignorant mistake that has further fueled the polarization of the nation but to punish them further, you'd be hard pressed to point out damage they've done (outside of social damage and contributing to the polarization of America--neither of which are illegal currently). I'm saddened that there are so many people posting online that they should have gone unpunished because of what that sentiment implies. They got what they deserved within the scope of ASU and time will tell if they'll be further punished by the media/society.

Trinidad Elizabeth
Trinidad Elizabeth

Racist or not they're still idiots! I'd be embarrassed to call them my kids or even an acquaintance

Lawrence E. Sellers Jr.
Lawrence E. Sellers Jr.

The fact that TKE has been targeted is a joke. The image portrayed is mainstream. Go to any mall or dept. store & these fashions are displayed & marketed. Suddenly because a group of students have a theme party where everyone dresses like a rap star or a basketball player, or like thousands of teenagers across the country, they are insensitive or ridiculous. This criticism doesn't make sense. The issue is, Blacks don't want to be imitated or characterized by white people, only blacks are permitted to do that. But it's ok for blacks to mock white people & make fun of their pale pasty skin. Blacks can say nigga or nigger & it's acceptable, but not for a white person. Blacks can call whites Honkies & that's ok but when white students wear NBA shirts or baseball hats, they're racist. This is a huge double standard. Leave TKE alone & let them dress like Mexicans on Chico de Mayo if they choose.

JP Popoff
JP Popoff

It is obvious that those that don't think it is racist might have some issues of their own. Listen, they might not have realized that what they did was racist, but it was. These white kids are saying that black culture can only be represented by sports jerseys and watermelon by their actions when there is so much more. It may have been an accident caused by ignorance but it was still racist and inappropriate.

Mathew Shaffer-Gage
Mathew Shaffer-Gage

Definitely very very white and I agree, AZ has a population of very very white ignorant folks

robert_graham
robert_graham topcommenter

Good for Mr. Meyers to come to their defense.  I'm surprised we haven't heard anything from the buffon race baiters Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Eric Holder by now.  I guess the reason why we haven't heard from Eric Holder yet is because he is too busy trying to find made up reasons to sue New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Alitza Blough
Alitza Blough

True enough, but they didn't. I doubt they were trying to raise awareness of the areas of the Af-Am community that pull down the view and progress of the rest of the community... for example. It was done in disrespect and likely out of ignorance of life in the US as anything other than very, very white.

Mathew Shaffer-Gage
Mathew Shaffer-Gage

If this party had been called a "Gangster Rap Party" nobody would have cared.

Sammy Snug
Sammy Snug

Fucking clowns of tke at it again..as the saying goes...if you dont go greek...go tke

Don Sherbondy
Don Sherbondy

Of Course… especially since they have made NO attempt to apologize ..

Marco Cruz
Marco Cruz

it doesnt matter, they didnt make fun of mexicans, its all good.

Pete Diaz
Pete Diaz

Does anybody remember a few years back a Mexican team came to play at Asu of all places. And was received with flying tortillas !! FCkn funny!

Joe Ploskonka
Joe Ploskonka

That sounds amazing. Can I come to all of those?

skookumjohn
skookumjohn

The university is a public, taxpayer supported institution, and as such may not discriminate against any individual for exercising their free speech rights.  If that asshole Crow expels these kids or punishes them in any way, they will all get rich from suing his commie ass.

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