Themed Dorm Party Sparks Race Debate at University of Chicago

CHICAGO

The University of Chicago is calling for campus race relations discussions after a dorm party with a “straight thuggin’” theme offended many on campus and in the surrounding South Side community, the university said.

Fewer than 20 students attended the hour-long party Oct. 14 in a four-student suite. They wore gold chains and sideways baseball caps, talked and sat around listening to rap music.

University officials said the party “parodied racial stereotypes” and fear the incident will further isolate Black students on campus and undermine progress the school has made in reaching out to minority populations surrounding the campus.

About 4 percent of the university’s 4,667 undergraduate students are Black. None of the students who attended the party were Black.

“The issues at stake … are larger than this one distressing episode and raise questions about the campus climate for minority students, faculty, and staff,” university officials, including President Don Randel, wrote in a letter e-mailed to students last week.

The “straight thuggin”’ party was the second in a series of themed parties held at the May House, a section of the Max Palevsky dorm. The May House previously had held a 90s theme party. A third party with an 80s theme never was held, said freshman Natasha Hodnett, one of the students who attended the party.

Though the party was registered with the May House, its theme was not. Stephen Klass, a university vice president and dean of students, said if May House officials had known about the theme, they would not have authorized the party.

Several Black students said the party and pictures of it posted temporarily on a Web site offended them.

“I was just totally flabbergasted,” said sophomore Kristiana Colon of Chicago. “If that is what they think hip-hop looks like or Black people look like, that is a serious problem.”

Colon said she was most disturbed that a group of White students would romanticize a “thug” culture.

Hodnett said the party was meant to imitate pop culture, not objectify or offend people.

“In our opinions, be they ignorant or not, everyone thought that it was a cross-culture thing and it was more mocking MTV culture and dressing up in baggy clothes and listening to rap or hip-hop music,” said Hodnett of the Chicago suburb of Palatine.

The university plans to discuss on race relations next week on campus.

“The issues here are broader than the party. … The real issue here is what the conditions that minority students and faculty face on a regular basis,” Klass said. “This is a bit of an ah-ha moment.”

Associated Press



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