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U. of C. frat controversy leads to apology, dean’s rebuke

AlphDeltPhi 5747 S. University. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Alpha Delta Phi at 5747 S. University. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 3, 2012 11:34AM

Charges that one University of Chicago fraternity had pledges wear sombreros and mow a lawn as Latin music played — and another frat planned a party for “Conquistadors and Aztec Hoes” — have led to a smackdown from the school’s dean of students.

Both incidents, which occurred this month, drew the ire of some Latino students and others who said they were ignorant and in poor taste.

A student reported to campus authorities that on May 8, pledges at the Alpha Delta Phi house were seen mowing the lawn outside the frat at 5747 S. University while wearing “oversized sombreros,” as a stereo system played Latin music, according to the Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper.

Around May 21, the Delta Upsilon fraternity, at 5714 S. Woodlawn, posted on Facebook about a planned party with a theme of “Conquistadors and Aztec Hoes.” Partiers were encouraged to bring “an unlimited need to conquer, spread disease and enslave natives,” said the May 25 issue of the Maroon.

Late Saturday, a Delta Upsilon official said in an email to the Sun-Times that the fraternity “deeply regrets that our initial event title and description offended members of the university community, and is taking steps to mend our relationships with the individuals and organizations that we have harmed. We have publicly apologized and reached out to various student organizations and have begun a dialogue with them so that we can create a more positive and trusting environment between ourselves and them.”

He said the event title was changed “within an hour of appearing on Facebook” but the fraternity eventually canceled the event.

Students who answered the door Saturday at Alpha Delta Phi — where the lawn looked unkempt — declined to comment. A young man inside the house said, “We were told not to say anything so it wouldn’t cause any problems.” He and another student referred inquiries to a fraternity official they identified as a chapter alum, but the man couldn’t be reached for comment.

Asked if fraternity members would avoid wearing sombreros in the future, the second student said, “I don’t know about that.”

In a statement posted on the U. of C. website, the dean of students said the institution’s “core value of rigorous and open inquiry is threatened” when comments degrade others based on their identity.

“In the past few weeks, the University has received two separate reports of incidents in our student community that invoked offensive stereotypes of members of particular racial, ethnic and gender groups,” said Kimberly Goff-Crews, the university’s dean of students. “I am troubled by the impact such incidents have on the wider student community, as they conflict with our values as an intellectual community and harm our ability to fulfill our educational mission.”

Some students said people overreacted, while others said they felt troubled.

Regarding the “Conquistadors and Aztec Hoes” invite, “It’s upsetting that people think it’s OK, and it’s promoting rape culture, so a lot of the female student groups are upset,” said student Amanda Bennett, 19.

Regarding the report of lawn-mowing, sombrero-wearing pledges, a 22-year-old student who identified himself as Evan said, “We have a lot of Hispanic workers — if they’d seen that, they might have been offended.”

But Amy Phillips, 19, said, “If you consider what a lot of frats do to their pledges, it’s really not that big a deal.”

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