HYDE PARK — A University of Chicago fraternity's construction-themed Cinco de Mayo party has sparked racial tensions on campus, the latest in a series of polarizing incidents on the South Side campus.
The words "F--- Racism" were spray-painted Wednesday on the outside of the house of the Chi Upsilon chapter of Phi Gamma Delta, known on campus as FIJI, at 5615 S. University Ave. The graffiti appeared a few weeks after the fraternity was accused of racial insensitivity for holding the party, which some allege promoted stereotypes of Mexican workers.
Before the Mexican holiday, five minority student groups on campus had urged fellow students not to perpetuate negative stereotypes on May 5 in an open letter to students. But even after the letter was sent, FIJI announced it was holding a "construction"-themed party called “Get Hammered” on May 5, according to a Facebook announcement.
The fraternity said the party was construction-themed because the historic frat house is undergoing renovations. The frat has apologized for holding the party, but the offended groups aren’t entirely buying it.
One of the student groups, Mecha de UChicago, said in an open letter to the campus that the fraternity originally agreed to change the theme of the party, but then went back on its word and held the party anyway.
"Fraternity members wore construction worker costumes on Cinco de Mayo after students had expressed concern that the 'construction' party theme could be construed as racially insensitive," the group said. “Mecha believes the fraternity followed through with their plans for a construction-themed party to demonstrate their privilege and authority by blatantly disregarding the concerns of marginalized groups without facing disciplinary actions. Moreover, this event was an attack on the mental and emotional well-being of marginalized groups on campus.”
Fraternity President Clyde Anderson said they tried to change the theme when they realized it might be misconstrued.
“The intent was entirely positive and in no way meant to belittle any people group,” Anderson said in a May 10 letter to campus groups. “Still, unintended consequences are consequences.”
He promised that future event themes would be approved unanimously by the fraternity’s Cabinet.
Still, the house was hit with the "F--- Racism" graffiti. A Mecha representative said they don’t believe it was a member of their group.
“Mecha de UChicago does not support the actions of whoever did it, but we believe that this incident highlights the racial tensions prevalent on our school campus,” the group said in a statement.
Anderson couldn’t be reached for comment, and students at the house contacted Thursday said they now want to move on and declined to answer more questions.
Frats on campus have faced accusations of racism in the past, including a major incident last year involving leaked emails that used racial epithets. The recent incident comes as students express increased concern about racial tensions on campus after recent recruiting efforts by white supremacist groups and bomb threats against the Hyde Park Jewish Community Center.
Multicultural student groups were expected to outline demands to university administration on Friday.