Public outcry over the perceived racially insensitive nature of a campus fraternity’s Halloween decoration has prompted efforts in the ASUC Senate to increase awareness of racial and cultural issues on campus.
The senate unanimously passed a bill at its meeting Wednesday evening that recognizes “the history and presence of lynching and anti-black sentiment” in the United States, California and UC Berkeley and urges the ASUC to implement “mandatory racial sensitivity curriculum” for campus Greek organizations. The bill was drafted in response to a stuffed zombie hung Tuesday from a third-story window of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity house as a part of an annual haunted house philanthropy event.
It also requires ASUC President Connor Landgraf to write a letter with the chair of the Black Student Union to UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and the Interfraternity Council Standards Board to hold the fraternity “responsible for reckless disregard of the risk of terrorizing the campus community” even if the decoration was not intended to be malicious.
Critics said the decoration resembled a lynching, which is connected to a period of history when blacks were suppressed and terrorized. Members of the fraternity took down the zombie Tuesday afternoon and issued an open apology letter for the decoration, stating that they did not intend to offend anyone.
“I hope that as strong as you are as a community, you are as forgiving as a community,” said Student Action Senator Mihir Deo, a member of TDX, at the meeting.
Still, members of the black community condemned the ASUC for what they called its inability to protect students and said recurring senate inaction with regard to racially insensitive incidents had led to increasing marginalization of communities that are already underrepresented on campus.
“The political reality is that blacks make up (about) 3 percent of campus (undergraduates),” said Marcel Jones, a campus junior and co-chair of political affairs of the Black Student Union, at the meeting. “We already feel like we are not supposed to be here, that we are not meant to strive outside a certain segment of campus because other segments ignore our culture, our history and our struggles and create violent images like this of lynching.”
According to Destiny Iwuoma, a sophomore who works at the Black Recruitment and Retention Center on campus, incidents such as this could affect the retention of black students on campus. He noted that the TDX house is located across the street from the African American Theme Program in a Unit 1 residence hall.
“As a member of the Greek system, (I think) we’re ignorant about issues like this,” said CalSERVE senator Megan Majd. “The number of people of color within the Greek system is already so minimal.”
Jeremy Gordon covers student government. Contact him at [email protected]