By: Christina E. Rodriguez
On October 5, 2006, the Delta Delta Delta Sorority and the Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity participated in an event titled “Tacos and Tequila,” or “fiesta.” Responding to their perception of the theme of the party, some of the sorority members showed up costumed as pregnant women, some wearing the Mexican flag, while the fraternity members wore farmers’ outfits depicting themselves as supposedly stereotypical Latino farm workers and gardeners. This, in turn, was offensive not only to the Latino community, but to the general minority community throughout campus.
On Halloween day, a diverse group of students gathered in front of the Illini Union to announce their feelings on racism and discrimination.
“This is the time for revolution and change,” said Kevin Knazze, senior in LAS, also known as Double K. “This isn’t about black versus white or black and Latino versus white, this is a ‘just’ versus ‘unjust’ thing.”
The demonstration began at noon and was followed by a march and protest in front of the Swandlund Administration Building, where Vice Chancellor Renee Romano read a statement. The protest later ended with marches to the Delta Delta Delta Sorority house and the Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity house. From black to white, Latino to Asian, men and women of different colors and creeds came together at the rally to denounce the offensive actions of the sorority and fraternity.
Since the “Tacos and Tequila” gathering took place, there have been meetings held by members of Students Transforming Oppression and Privilege (STOP), the Lambda Theta Phi Incorporated Fraternity, and the Mexican Student Association at La Casa Cultural Latina. In addition, there have been meetings between the members of Delta Delta Delta, Zeta Beta Tau, members of different Latino associations, and Vice Chancellor Romano.
The first meeting held was a follow-up to the rally that happened on October 30. The people in attendance brainstormed options and objectives that could possibly link to a mandatory class/workshop taken by the rest of the community at the University.
“It would be a class linking Latina/o Studies, Afro-American Studies, and other classes that are not mandatory for all students to take”, said Heidy Valenzuela, senior in LAS and member of Omega Phi Beta Sorority. The hope is that they could reach out to those entering the campus before things like these parties ever happen again.
At the meeting, one of the ZBT members said that by meeting and making up this class, they were having a positive outcome to the situation they had created. This remark heated up the conversation, making some of the Latino students object by saying that there should be no reason for any of these exchanges or meetings. In other words, if the community was more accepting and respectful of other students on campus, specifically ethnic minorities, and not neglect the fact that they are around, this event would not have occurred.
After Patty Garcia, senior in LAS and president of the United Greek Council, found out about the October 5 gathering between the two organizations, she wrote an email to Cultural Affairs on October 11. In the email, Garcia wrote, “I just don’t think that the campus community completely understands why it is wrong to make money and entertain yourself through a culture. At the same time, I feel that as a student organization we have a larger role to play in this process and it is not completely their fault that they reduce our culture to stereotypes.”
Garcia said that a few hours later representatives of both Greek organizations attended the United Greek Council meeting to apologize for what had taken place at the event.
With this, Emma Miller, junior in Communications and president of the Delta Delta Delta Sorority, wrote a general letter of apology to Garcia stating: “During this event, members of our chapter represented minority cultures in a negative way. It’s important for us to address that this is in no way representative of our chapter….The fact that this has offended such an integral part of this campus is extremely upsetting to our chapter and you can be assured that many measures are being taken to both educate about and eliminate this kind of behavior.”
In a previous email to Garcia, Miller also stated: “I don’t know if this became an issue within United Greek Council, but it did within our house. A small group of our members did not dress in the tasteful and respectful manner that was expected of the theme. The rest of us were very upset with their choices and knew that this situation could not be overlooked. This is why I wanted to address you personally, despite whether or not the situation has been brought to your attention. In no way was it our intention to be offensive, disrespectful to the Latino community and its culture, or promote racial stereotypes.”
She went on to explain that it was handled the next day within their sorority, adding, “We are very disappointed and ashamed of the poor judgment of these members. I want to sincerely apologize on behalf of my entire chapter to all of United Greek Council and any other friends or acquaintances of council members that may have also been hurt or offended by this situation.”
Unlike the Tri-Delt Sorority, the ZBTs did not seem to understand what they had done wrong by having this party. which had previously been halted for seven years. The reason for postponing and bringing back the gathering is still not known. The sorority, on the other hand, has expressed its desire to make things better on campus. Amy Lewensky, a member of the sorority, joined in a discussion at La Casa on November 6 to explain how she wanted to mend the wrong that happened a month earlier.
In addition to meetings and brainstormed ideas, the Cultural and Minority Affairs Committee supporters drafted an Illinois Student Senate Resolution on October 25. The resolution specifically listed each issue that the students wanted implemented. One of the lines states: “Whereas, this event is a culminating factor that is part of the greater campus issue that individual acts of intolerance, large and small group events, hate crimes, etc. still occur…”
This statement leads to: “Whereas, Student Government does not condone derogatory behaviors, actions, or themes and wants to create an environment of understanding, respect, and civility…”
The next day, the resolution was presented to the rest of the Student Senate by members of the Cultural and Minority Affairs Committee. The committee presented its reasons for approval of the
resolution and the resolution was successfully passed that same night.
Although this is one event that gained a large amount of attention, it is not the first event that promoted negative stereotypes among the community. In an email from Garcia to the Chancellor of Student Affairs, she says this “exchange” has caused many students in the community at large to say that “the [Latino] community is overreacting to this event and that they even defend the actions based on freedom of expression and no code violation.”
She also goes on to explain that the unnoticed and unpunished racism that exists on campus is a result of a lack of accountability.
“As students in higher education prepare to enter the work force, we must remember that students need to be educated in every aspect of societal problems, not only those pertaining to their own community, and much of the accountability remains within the administration,” she wrote.
Future meetings with the Vice Chancellor, student organizations, and Greek organizations have been planned to further deal with this particular Greek incident and the general campus climate.