Editor’s Note: The following letter was sent to The Observer on Tuesday, April 12 at 1:38 p.m. and was made publicly available the same day. Those authors requested that students email email@example.com to sign it. At the time The Observer received it, the letter contained 154 signatures. A majority of the letter was written by three unnamed CWRU students.
To the Case Western Reserve University community:
We are writing in response to the actions of Phi Delta Theta and the negligence of the Greek Life Office (GLO), Greek Week Steering Committee and judges panel during this year’s Variety Show. Phi Delta Theta’s insensitive costuming and dance routines, which included fraternity members dressing in Mexican sarapes and sombreros, played carelessly with stereotypes in an attempt to create a Mexican aesthetic. Moreover, the script provided no legitimate historical context, included sexist language and made reference to presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed policy to create a border wall. Overall, this performance created an environment of hurt and confusion for many Latinos in our community.
Many, if not most, Latinx students at CWRU are reminded daily of our marginalization when our names are mispronounced, our accents are ridiculed, our culture is the punchline to a joke or even our citizenship in this country is questioned. At the end of the night, Phi Delta Theta members walked away without experiencing the stigma of being a Latino in this country and without understanding how triggering their performance was for many Latinos on this campus, albeit perhaps unintentional. Therefore, this moment must serve as a platform for education and heightened awareness on the detrimental effects of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation occurs when dominant groups borrow and profit from the culture of marginalized groups, while marginalized communities, on the other hand, face oppression or stigma for celebrating the very same culture. Said another way, people in positions of privilege or power want to borrow the “cool” of disenfranchised people of color, without having to face any of the consequences that accompany it. On Friday night, we saw this come into fruition when Phi Delta Theta was awarded sixth place after having culturally appropriated Mexican culture.
We feel that it is important to highlight that our condemnation is not an indictment of Greek Life at large. Indeed, the values that we hope to promote are those that we believe a majority of members within Greek Life already hold. We also acknowledge that sincere confusion on the issue exists and mistakes will be made. However it is important to continue to foster an inclusive environment for the many Latino students who are also currently members of the Greek community. Individuals engaging in irresponsible behavior, however unintentional, must still confront appropriate consequences. Therefore, in an effort to remedy this situation, we ask for the following:
Of Phi Delta Theta, we ask for:
(1) A public apology to the CWRU Latino community for using blatantly racist costumes and employing culturally insensitive stereotypes signed by each member of the fraternity,
(2) A commitment to refrain from culturally appropriating ANY marginalized group culture in the future,
(3) The fraternity eliminate itself from contention for any Greek Week award or recognition,
(4) Their placing in Variety Show should be placed under review,
(5) 100 percent fraternity participation in diversity education and training,
(6) The fraternity submits to whatever appropriate sanctions are imposed by the GLO.
Of the GLO, Greek Week Steering Committee and judging panel, we ask for:
(1) A public apology to the CWRU Latino community for their negligence in oversight of the fraternity’s variety show script,
(2) The elimination of Phi Delta Theta from contention for any Greek Week award or recognition,
(3) The participation of the GLO staff in comprehensive diversity & inclusion education and training,
(4) An investigation and written report as to the individuals that approved and allowed the approval of variety show skits as well as the placing of their performance,
(5) Meeting with the GLO to assess future initiatives to create an inclusive environment for Latino students in the Greek community.
We acknowledge that everyone is in a different place in their personal journey of diversity and inclusion. This performance has sparked a campus wide discussion, even within the own Latinx community, about varying perspectives and mixed emotions in regards to future action steps. However we strongly feel that we must stand by the individuals in the Latino community both in and outside of the Greek community that felt personally misrepresented and/or offended. We feel that meeting these demands is indispensable in order for the Greek Life community to embody the values of the CWRU community. In addition, we hope to start a continued dialogue on how the Greek Life community can contribute to the efforts of making CWRU a more diverse and inclusive community.
Concerned Latinx Students