WESTWOOD—A “Kanye Western” themed fraternity party that happened at UCLA on Tuesday night has drawn criticism and sparked protests in response to the party’s alleged racist overtones.
The party happened at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house, and the theme prompted students to dress up like Kanye West, or in a “western” style. Students from the Alpha Phi sorority were involved as well. Photos taken at the party were posted on Instagram and showed students wearing items such as baggy clothes, padded buttocks, and gold chains. Some of the students in the photos had soot smeared on their faces, which upset many because of its resemblance to blackface. According to a statement released by UCLA’s Afrikan Student Union, some came to the party “covered in brown paint…to resemble the complexion of African American people.”
As the party went on and the photos spread through social media, a group of African American students stood outside the party and asked for it to be stopped. It was eventually shut down by police around 11 p.m.
The following day, many began tweeting about the party using the hashtag #BlackBruinsMatter. Protesters allege that the party made a mockery of black culture and reinforced stereotypes about African Americans. “It’s very much a blackface party in the sense that it was making fun of black culture..saying we’re ‘dressing like thugs’ for a ‘rapper’s party’, it’s not okay,” said UCLA student Janay Williams in an interview with KTLA.
A student protest was organized to get campus officials to take action. On Thursday, a large number of students marched through campus and occupied UCLA chancellor Gene Block’s office, and UCLA has since stated that they will launch an investigation into what actually transpired at the party that night. A statement from UCLA released on Thursday reads, “We are concerned about these allegations and earnestly working to gather information about what occurred, talking to all those involved. In the meantime, both Greek organizations allegedly involved have been placed on immediate interim suspension of all social activities pending the outcome of an investigation. While we do not yet have all the facts, the alleged behavior is inconsistent with good judgment as well as our principles of community.”
UCLA’s Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter posted an apology on Facebook yesterday morning, stating that the party was intended to celebrate pop culture. “We realize that the theme showed a lack of judgment on our part and that some of the guests’ costumes were offensive to members of the Bruin community. We want our campus community to know that they can expect better from this fraternity.” The statement goes on to say that the rumors of guests wearing blackface at the party are untrue.