Durham, N.C. — Asian student groups at Duke University have filed a formal complaint with the school after a fraternity hosted a weekend party with a theme that some consider racist.
The party, put on Friday by the university's chapter of Kappa Sigma Fraternity, originally had an Asian theme, but it was changed to "international relations" after some students complained, according to Larry Moneta, Duke's vice president of student affairs.
However, pictures posted online show party-goers wearing Asian-style clothing, including a conical straw hat, and a party invite with the salutation, "Herro Nice Duke Peopre."
The Asian Students Association and the Asian American Alliance, on Wednesday, also held what they called "Race is Not a Party: Rally for an Inclusive Duke".
"The events of the past week have deeply hurt students in our community," the groups wrote on Facebook. "We won't use our platform to alienate, to provide more fodder for stereotypes about Duke, or to trivialize any person's experience. Instead, we will use this opportunity to spread awareness of why the events of the past week were hurtful and to establish a concrete plan for how our community can move forward."
Several hundred students attended the rally, in which they called for an apology in the form of action from Kappa Sigma – specifically for each fraternity member to participate in a community social justice project. They also called for a Group Bias Incident Task Force made up of leaders from student organizations representing "historically marginalized groups" on campus to respond to discriminatory actions by student groups.
"You hurt us when you made fun of our accent, when you wrote 'Herro Duke' in your invitation," Duke senior Tony Gouw said. "You were not just mocking an accent, you were mocking an immigrant's struggle to make it in this nation."
The Asian Students Association and Duke Student Government have also planned a forum for 7:30 p.m. about the matter. Students from Kappa Sigma are expected to attend.
Moneta said administrators learned of the party after they saw the invitations, and they asked Kappa Sigma to cancel the off-campus event. He said the university is now considering what action it might take against the fraternity.
"This is less about discipline and sanctions and more about education," Moneta said. "Humor at the expense of others is not humor, and entertainment at the expense of others is not entertainment."
Mitchell Wilson, executive director of Kappa Sigma Fraternity, said Wednesday that the organization is aware of the party and is investigating.
In the meantime, he said, all activities at the Duke chapter have been suspended until the investigation is complete.
"The Kappa Sigma Fraternity finds that the actions which have been associated with this event are inappropriate and insensitive, and Kappa Sigma does not condone such activity," he said. "This matter will be investigated, and the fraternity will address this matter in an appropriate fashion."
A fraternity spokesman at Duke could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Chapter President Luke Keohane, however, apologized in an article published by The Chronicle, Duke's independent student newspaper.
"Upon learning of the deeply damaging effects of our email to our fellow students, we should have completely canceled the aforementioned party," Keohane said, according to the newspaper. "The Duke Community in which we exist is one that we see too often as divided, and while our actions have brought attention to and widened that divide, it is our sincere intention to work to contribute to a United Duke."
The Asian student groups have the support of several other campus student groups, including the Black Student Alliance, the Center for Race Relations and the National Pan-Hellenic Council.
Controversy over racial insensitivity isn't new for the university.
In November, Duke women's lacrosse coach Kerstin Kimel apologized after photos from a Halloween party at her house showing a player in black-face were posted on the school's athletic department's website.
At the party, a group of juniors dressed up as characters from "The Little Rascals" comedy movies. The player who dressed as "Buckwheat" painted her face black for the party. The photo appeared on GoDuke.com along with a player's blogpost, but it was quickly removed.