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Fraternity Faces Sanctions for Offensive Songbook : Clubs: National organization suspends UCLA chapter. School official calls lyrics 'sexist, racist.'

October 02, 1992|LARRY GORDON | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

A UCLA fraternity was suspended from its national organization this week and faces a campus investigation over a club songbook with obscene lyrics described by a school official as "ugly, sexist, racist and homophobic."

The controversy involving the Theta Xi fraternity is similar to one less than a year ago in which a different UCLA fraternity was disciplined for having a songbook that included verses advocating mutilation and acts of sexual violence against women. In both cases, the feminist magazine on campus, Together, set off debate by publishing the lyrics.

In the Theta Xi matter, chapter President Marc Buckhantz insisted Thursday that the songbook was withdrawn from use more than a year ago because members found the traditional drinking tunes offensive. "We welcome the investigations because we've eradicated those songs from all facets of our chapter," he said. "We've reformed. We will be reforming."

Antagonizing women and Latinos, one song had lyrics about a "hot . . . Mexican whore" who had a voracious sexual appetite even in the grave "while maggots crawl out of her decomposed womb." Another song joked that a rival fraternity's members are "dirty . . . fags" who "contracted AIDS and died."

Allen Yarnell, UCLA's assistant vice chancellor for student and campus life, said he was horrified by the lyrics, which were also printed this week by the mainstream campus newspaper, the Daily Bruin. "This stuff is ugly, sexist, racist and homophobic. We deplore it," Yarnell said Thursday.

The national Theta Xi umbrella organization has suspended the UCLA chapter temporarily and threatened to eject it permanently if a review finds serious violations of behavior rules, Yarnell said. In addition, UCLA's Interfraternity Council will investigate the matter, possibly resulting in the chapter being banned for a time from all official campus functions such as athletics and social events.

Such discipline would be too mild, according to Kelly Besser, editor of Together. She advocates abolishing all links between UCLA and Greek letter clubs or at least ending the $4,000 a year that UCLA student government provides for campus supervision of fraternities and sororities. Student government leaders debated such a funding cutoff this week but reached no conclusion.

Together magazine was given a copy of the Theta Xi songbook after it was found in a Westwood apartment by a UCLA student. "We want to expose the kind of mentality that is bred through brotherhood at UCLA," said Besser, who is helping organize a campus rally at noon today to protest the funding.

Earlier this year, her magazine published parts of the controversial songbook of Phi Kappa Psi. That fraternity, which had been on suspension from campus activities for other reasons at the time, has had its suspension indefinitely extended because of the songbook. Some members said the lyrics were taken out of context and were intended to be harmless drinking songs.

Yarnell conceded that the controversy raises questions about restrictions on freedom of speech and enforcement of so-called political correctness. He contended that although UCLA does not want to monitor private expression, it should not support offensive speech and actions.

Asked about Besser's allegation that the entire fraternity system is tainted, Yarnell responded: "I genuinely don't know. If it is, we are doing something wrong and we had better change things."

Dan LaFrance, president of UCLA's Interfraternity Council, criticized the lyrics and stressed that the fraternity system is working hard to eradicate unacceptable behavior. But he said that campus groups should "try to sit down and communicate with each other and not try to dig up dirt on each other."

LaFrance complained that the many charitable works by fraternities are ignored by campus publications, which, he said, focus on sensationalism.

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