Students at Duke University rally in response to a campus fraternity party… (David Zucchino / Los Angeles…)
DURHAM, N.C. – Growing up as an Asian American in Texas, Ashley Tsai endured slurs from grade school through high school. But she said she did not expect to encounter discrimination from a fraternity at prestigious Duke University, where she’s a senior.
Over the weekend, a party hosted by Kappa Sigma fraternity mocked Asians and spoofed Asian dress. Tsai and other Asian American students organized a protest that included a "Race Is Not a Party" Facebook page and a campus rally Wednesday where students chanted, "Don’t party at our expense!" and "No more hate, make Duke great!"
"It was shocking and hurtful," Tsai said of the party, which advertised the event via an email with the greeting "Herro Nice Duke Peopre!!"
Photos from the party, posted on Facebook, showed partygoers dressed in Asian gowns and conical caps. The email invitation closed with a mocking "Chank You."
As soon as she saw the invitation, Duke junior Katherine Zhang said, she nearly broke down in tears. "I knew I had to do something about this," she said at the rally Wednesday.
Kappa Sigma President Luke Keohane sent an apologetic email to the campus newspaper, saying, "Upon learning of the deeply damaging effects of our email to our fellow students, we should have completely canceled the aforementioned party."
But the Asian American students said the event was the latest in a series of offensive race- or ethnic-themed parties on campus, among them a "Pilgrims and Indians" event last year and a "South of the Border" party several years ago, which students said mocked Native Americans and Latinos.
The students demanded the formation of a campus task force to, in part, "adjudicate punitive measures" for similar offensive incidents. They asked the university to hold the fraternity accountable.
Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs at Duke, said university officials confronted fraternity members about their "thoughtless and offensive actions" and urged them to apologize to those offended.
At this point, Moneta said, the university does not plan to formally discipline the fraternity, but reserves the right to do so.
Zhang said in an interview that although most people on campus welcomed Asian Americans, there had been a persistent undercurrent of discrimination.
"Growing up, I always felt like an outsider because of the color of my skin," she said. "I thought it might be different at Duke."
Zhang said she received an email from Jack Riker, president of the Interfraternity Council on campus, promising to work with fraternities to prevent offensive, racist or sexist incidents.
"The Brothers of Kappa Sigma understand the unfortunate negative impact their event has had on the Duke community," Riker wrote. "Through this experience, we welcome the opportunity to become more socially aware Greeks, Duke students and human beings."