ASU frat party blurs the line between free speech and racism

A fraternity party at Arizona State University in Tempe last week pitted freedom of speech advocates against a racially-sensitive back drop of sense and sensibility.

In response to the party, where racial stereotypes were depicted by fraternity members and their guests, the University severed ties with the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.   Read the story here 

When I matriculated back in 1968 at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, members of Tau Kappa Epsilon (referred to as "TEKES") were themselves stereotyped as the collection of insensitive clods known as "jocks". Misogynism and racism were a couple of their less egregious transgressions, but we were a less sensitive society back then and no one got kicked off campus for being a jerk.

As the school that sanctions sororities and fraternities and is responsible for their behavior, ASU is well within its rights to sanction behavior they deem inappropriate. Those of us who participate in the online community know that many forums require us to adhere to their policies.

Trash talk of any kind is prohibited on many sites. That doesn't mean you are restricted from talking trash, it just means you can't do it on those sites.

There are certain racial epithets that are not tolerated in our home. We will not kick you out for using them, but you will no longer find the welcome mat out for your racist self. That would be your loss, because my wife's a great cook and we pour top shelf beverages.

No one seems to disagree that the theme of TKE's party was offensive. Some partiers dressed as inner-city gang members, some drank out of watermelon cups, perpetuating sterotypical images of black people.

I know that African-American is a more politically correct term, I just don't get it and I don't like it. I would never describe a friend as African-American any more than I would describe one as Italian-American. I find those terms both devisive and disingenuous. But, this is a digression.

I wasn't at the party, so whatever I say about it is based upon heresay and anecdotal reports. All that makes it impossible to put the events of that day into proper perspective.

What we do know is the following: This was not a gathering of Wall Street executives. First and foremost, it was a fraternity party, where the primary ingredients tend to be raging hormones and intoxicants. Not exactly a recipe for enlightened behavior.

It's also worth remembering that those in attendance at the TKE party were college kids at a school annually recognized as one of the top 5 party schools in the country. Good judgement may be less of a prerequisite than willingness to try just about anything in pursuit of the ultimate college experience.

Reverand Jarrett Maupin, who called the party a "a raucous, racist rally" and called on the school to expel all students involved has since reversed his position. He now recommends less severe punishments and second chances.   Read more

In the end, I think it comes down to a matter of intent. Only the participants can know what's in their hearts. It's possible they're a bunch of racist bastards who should be expelled from the University and shunned by a civilized society.

It's also possible that they are, for the most part just a bunch of dumb kids who don't get it. If we give them the benefit of the doubt, this could be what we like to call "a teachable moment".

It would be nice if we could send them out in world with the realization that what they say and do can have unforeseen impact and unintended consequences. Little pebbles, sending ripples across the pond.

It would be nice, but do any of us really learn from those lessons?

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