Thursday, January 25, 2007

Two Stories on MLK Party at Tarleton State (TX)

‘MLK Party’ deemed offensive
By SARA VANDEN BERGE News Editor and DOUG MYERS Managing Editor
Stephenville Empire- Tribune (Texas)January 24, 2007

A group of Tarleton State University students, including members of a popular fraternity, chose to “celebrate” Martin Luther King Day by throwing a “MLK Party,” complete with buckets of fried chicken and 40-oz bottles of malt liquor wrapped in brown paper sacks - symbols used to negatively stereotype black culture.

Party-goers also donned afros, carried fake guns, and dressed in gangster attire. One student even came dressed as “Aunt Jemimah.”

Now, a core group of black students are taking action.

Donald “D. Ray” Elder, president of Tarleton’s NAACP chapter, said he is deeply offended by the overt display of racism among his fellow students.“This happened on our campus. It didn’t happen on the East Coast or in the Deep South,” Elder said. “It’s happening right here in Stephenville, Texas. This is how regular students are celebrating Martin Luther King Day."

The party apparently took place last Wednesday. By Thursday, word of the soiree had spread and pictures began appearing on at least two Web sites.

Exactly who hosted the party is still not known.

Elder claims it was sponsored by Lambda Chi Alpha, a university-sanctioned fraternity, but members of the fraternity dispute that claim, saying that while some members may have attended, the fraternity did not act as the host.

TSU President Dr. Dennis McCabe expressed concern with the situation in a prepared statement released late Tuesday.“We are very disappointed to learn about this very unfortunate incident and are investigating it fully,” McCabe said. “We will use this as a teachable moment to help our students understand the importance of civility on and off the campus.”

McCabe will be “issuing a letter to the university community addressing this issue early Wednesday morning,” said Dr. Wanda Mercer, vice president of student life.

Meanwhile, Elder said he was first made aware of the situation by two students, then began doing his own research. He found photos from the party posted by two Tarleton students on Facebook, a networking Web site popular among college students.

Appalled by what he saw, Elder said he sent an e-mail to fellow student Jeremy Pelz, who is a member of Lambda Chi Alpha and who posted the pictures.

He said Pelz quickly apologized and removed the photos from the site, but only after Elder downloaded them onto a disk.

Elder then gave the photos to Tarleton officials and asked them for help.

Pelz said Lambda Chi Alpha did not sponsor the party, but when asked, he refused to disclose who did.

However, Pelz said he is sorry for turmoil and pain caused by the situation, and that if he could take it all back, he would.“I didn’t mean any disrespect and I didn’t want to be offensive,” Pelz said. “I have definitely learned from this experience.”

Pelz also encouraged an African-American friend of his to contact the Empire-Tribune.

Tracy Williams, a 2006 graduate of Tarleton and former roommate of Pelz, said he never saw any signs of racist tendencies in his friend.“I am African-American and we are great friends,” Williams said. “I’ve been to these kinds of parties before and I think they are fun - I’ll back him (Pelz) 100 percent.”Even so, Elder said he plans on addressing Tarleton’s Student Government Association about the situation when it meets at 5:15 p.m. today.

January 25, 2007
Tarleton deals with MLK controversy - Forum reveals wounds remain
By DOUG MYERS Managing Editor and SARA VANDEN BERGE News Editor

White Tarleton State University students who took part in a Martin Luther King Day “celebration” that offended many black students continued to apologize Wednesday for their actions.

But black students, who attended Wednesday night’s university forum called to attempt to heal wounds associated with the issue, made it clear that a simple apology just isn’t good enough.

“Whoever went to the party, this is your consequence,” Sarah Bodden said. “You may want it to go away, but ... you’ll just have to sit and listen to us (complain) about it for a while.”

Bodden was one of a number of black students who went to the microphone to express dismay with students who participated in a “MLK Party.”The party featured buckets of fried chicken and 40-oz bottles of malt liquor wrapped in brown paper sacks - symbols used to negatively stereotype black culture. Those who attended also donned afros, carried fake guns, and dressed in gangster attire.

Photographs from the “MLK Party” were posted on Facebook, a networking Web site popular among college students.

Jeremy Pelz, a TSU student who attended the party and one who posted the pictures, was the first to stand up to the microphone late Wednesday to face criticism and apologize for his actions.“I am not a racist and I hope you accept my apology,” Pelz said. “In no way did I intend to discriminate toward Martin Luther King.”

“We do accept the apology, but we do not accept the fact that it was unintentional,” Elder said. “We were expecting, ‘I’m sorry. We didn’t mean it’ ... If this was not meant to harm anybody, why was it a secret?”

Tracy Williams, an African-American 2006 graduate of Tarleton, said he started the “MLK Party” three years ago and accepted any blame that might be given.

“If you want to pin the blame on anybody, blame it on me,” Williams said. “... This was not a Lambda Chi (Alpha) Party. This is a party I started.”

University officials continued Wednesday to investigate the party and exactly who hosted it remained unclear.

Dr. Wanda Mercer, TSU’s vice president for student life, said university officials “just found out about (the party) yesterday” and that they plan on investigating “it fully.”

At one point during the forum, intense words flew between black and white speakers on opposite sides of the packed room, prompting Williams to say, “I honestly think this is getting out of hand.”

Mercer even had to intervene, saying, “It’s not dialogue when everyone is talking and no one is listening.”

“I seem so emotional because I am so emotional because we seem so divided,” Chai Read-Walsh said.

At a time when the university needs to become more diverse, Read-Walsh asked, “Who’s going to want to come to school where they have parties like this?”

Meanwhile, TSU President Dr. Dennis McCabe cut an out of town visit short to attend the event. He told the room full of students and faculty that he was “hurt, angry, and appalled” by the recent events.“We are about creating a culture of excellence for our students and we have tried to live up to that. And for the most part, we have,” McCabe said. “But this recent event has called into question the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. - and that’s why I’m angry.”

McCabe encouraged the student body to deal with their anger in their own way, but asked that they “choose a path of healing and understanding.”

Before the forum began, Mercer said the mood on campus has been calm despite the anger and frustration many of the students are feeling. She said rumors of fighting or violence on campus were completely false.

“People are definitely talking about the situation and that’s a good thing because it gets people discussing the tough issues,” Mercer said.
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