UCLA investigating reports of blackface at fraternity party

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 08, 2015 5:52 PM

(Reuters) - The University of California Los Angeles said on Thursday it was investigating reports of a racially offensive Kanye West-themed fraternity party, where some attendees allegedly wore blackface.

UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said the university had temporarily suspended the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Alpha Phi sorority, but declined to provide further details on the Tuesday night event or the allegations swirling around it.

"We remind students that while they are free to celebrate in ways that draw on popular culture, their specific choices can cause harm and pain to fellow members of their community," the school said in a statement. "Put simply: Just because you can do something, does not mean you should."

The event comes several months after a video showing a racist song being chanted by members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity sparked a wave of headlines about racism within fraternities and sororities across the country.

The UCLA student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, reported that partygoers in the so-called "Kanye Western" event came dressed in baggy clothes and gold chains and padded their pants to caricature large buttocks.

Sigma Phi Epsilon's UCLA chapter issued an apology in a posting on Facebook on Thursday, but denied allegations that anyone showed up to the party in blackface.

The statement said several guests attended dressed as miners, pictures of whom were uploaded online and showed soot smeared on their faces, in reference to Kanye West's hit "Gold Digger," but the costumes "had nothing to do with race."

"We sincerely apologize for the offense and hurt we caused to our fellow Bruins, especially those in the African American community," it said.

Representatives for the national and local chapter of the Alpha Phi sorority could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Afrikan Student Union at UCLA uploaded footage on social media showing more than 100 students protesting the party on Thursday, along with the hashtags #BlackBruinsMatter and #OurCultureIsNotACostume.

Blackface was often used in minstrel shows in the 19th and early 20th centuries featuring white performers portraying African-Americans, often in a degrading manner.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)