While other campuses across the country are wracked by growing protests over apartheid, UCLA was abuzz Thursday over a controversy sparked by a "tequila sunrise" party that has drawn cries of racism from Chicano students.
About a dozen members of UCLA's Chicano student organization--MEChA--continued their 24-hour vigil for the seventh straight day Thursday in front of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house. The party, which the Chicano students said was demeaning and insulting to Latinos and their cultural heritage, was held there last Friday morning.
Fraternity members, wearing sombreros and serapes, were seen acting in an intoxicated manner, occasionally hurling insults at passers-by, said Rick Amador, one of the MEChA protesters and a political science major at UCLA.
"I don't mind them drinking tequila," he said, "as long as they don't insult my people."
MEChA spokesman Francisco Arellano said the party violated a moratorium against theme parties based on race, culture, ethnicity or sex imposed on the fraternities by UCLA officials last October after Chicano students complained about the traditional "Viva Zapata" parties sponsored by Phi Kappa Psi, another UCLA fraternity.
"We want the university to say that this type of behavior won't be tolerated," Arellano said. "This is just another form of racism on this campus."
MEChA students want UCLA officials to take direct control of the fraternity, currently governed by a council recognized by the university, and adopt an ethnic "studies bill" to ensure that "cultural ignorance no longer will be tolerated as an excuse for socially unacceptable behavior. . . ."
Irked by the administration's apparent inaction, the MEChA students, armed with beach chairs, books, placards and sleeping bags, organized a round-the-clock vigil in front of the fraternity house at 518 Gayley Ave. shortly after they learned about the party last Friday morning.
Campus authorities reported no problems, other than the occasional ethnic slur or insult directed at the protesters, until Wednesday night, when 200 to 300 MEChA members and supporters from other Southland campuses converged on Gayley Avenue for a protest procession in front of Fraternity Row.
Several witnesses said the protesters were pelted with tortillas hurled from several fraternity houses and from a pickup truck passing through the area. No one was hurt in the incident and no arrests were made, authorities said.
Members of the Beta Theta Pi occasionally looked out the windows at the Wednesday night protest but were not involved in the incidents, witnesses said. Peter Aronson, fraternity president, said he had no comment on the situation.
Late Thursday, however, UCLA administrators suspended the fraternity's privileges to participate in such university- sponsored or-sanctioned activities as Mardi Gras. In addition, the fraternity was ordered to send an open letter through the campus media apologizing for the party.
The incident, said Allen Yarnell, UCLA's assistant vice chancellor for student relations, has prompted campus officials to begin work on a plan that will eventually place all fraternities and sororities under direct control of the university, bypassing the Interfraternity Council.
Meanwhile, the controversy has been a lively topic on campus and in the pages of the Daily Bruin, the campus newspaper.
Several members of other UCLA fraternities staunchly defended their Beta Theta Pi colleagues, contending that the MEChA protesters are overstating their case by continuing to protest in front of the fraternity house.
"Overall, I'd say it's too much to say all fraternities are bad or racist," said Sully Moore, a member of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. "There might be one or two bad people in a frat, but to generalize that all members are racist is wrong. There are a lot of reasons for joining a frat."
Ed Baird, a junior political science-history major, added, "There is nothing wrong with having a party."
One MEChA supporter, joining the debate in the Daily Bruin, wrote in, complaining:
"The biggest joke of all was the statement about the protesters having a great time out at the Beta house. It sounds like great fun to sit out on a street corner . . . constantly being heckled and bombarded with various objects. . . . Many of them look like they've been through two weeks of finals."