Updated 1/24/14, 9:10am ET to include the fraternity’s expulsion from the university.
By Chris Hoenig
Arizona State University officials have expelled a popular fraternity after a racist and offensive party held on a weekend to celebrate the nation’s most revered civil-rights leader.
The school’s Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) chapter initially had its operations halted after pictures posted on social media showed partygoers at the frat’s “MLK Black Party” dressed in basketball jerseys, flashing gang signs and drinking from watermelon cups. School officials announced late Thursday that the fraternity had been expelled.
“I think this represents the ignorance that still exists today. This is just one example of the kind of things that occur here,” ASU senior Kaajal Koranteng told KPHO-TV in Phoenix.
“This isn’t appropriate at all and you really have no business dressing like this on a day that’s sort of revered for African-Americans,” senior Frank Hogan added after seeing some of the pictures.
The frat was already on probation after being reinstated in December from another suspension, and it was prohibited from throwing parties. “ASU has one of the most diverse student bodies of any major university in the country, and it is unfortunate that a few misguided individuals held an offensive party at a time when ASU, the state and the nation are celebrating Dr. King’s achievements and legacy. The university will not tolerate this kind of behavior,” read an official ASU statement announcing the indefinite suspension. The university added that the party was not sanctioned by the school and did not take place on school grounds.
“This incident is one of many that prove we still have a long way to go in solving problems of racism in America,” Phoenix-based civil-rights activist Reverend Jarrett Maupin said. He is demanding diversity and racial-sensitivity training at the school because of what he calls a “culture of bigotry within some white Greek organizations: at the university. “There should be a zero-tolerance policy for racism at ASU. Period,” Maupin added.
“We are aware of the situation. We have been contacted and we have been in contact with the local chapter and the university,” national TKE organization Director of Compliance & Housing Patrick Gleason said. He added that the national body had worked with the local ASU chapter to get it reinstated and back on campus last month after its suspension for inappropriate conduct, including a fight that left one student injured. Gleason said he planned to meet with school and chapter officials following this latest suspension.
The national TKE organization, based in Indianapolis, released a statement on the party and suspension:
“Tau Kappa Epsilon does not condone or support any actions by its members that would be defined as racist, discriminatory and/or offensive. Social events with ‘party themes’ that are defined as such have no place in our fraternity’s mission or purpose. It is with embarrassment and regret when a few individuals within our organization make decisions that do not align with the values and principles of Tau Kappa Epsilon.
“Since 1899, our fraternity has taken much pride in the diversity and uniqueness of our membership. Tau Kappa Epsilon has never had an exclusionary clause in our membership. Our founders believed, as we do today, in the personal worth and character of the individual, not his wealth, rank or honor. We take great pride in having members who were and are still advocates of civil-rights movements in the United States. We celebrate all men and women of all races, genders, creeds, orientations and beliefs who strive each day to make the world a better place.
“We apologize for any offensive actions that a few of our members might have participated in. We can assure all other parties that these actions do not represent Tau Kappa Epsilon and the beliefs of love, charity and esteem that we have stood by for 115 years. We will respond to these individuals while holding the utmost respect for our principles of being Better Men for a Better World.
“A member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity professional staff is currently onsite at Arizona State University to begin an investigation. We have been working with university officials since we became aware of the alleged incident.”
But the meeting between the school and the national TKE organization does not sit well with Reverend Maupin. “To try and meet on this matter without engaging Black leaders is adding insult to injury,” he said. “We must be at the table.” He is also demanding that the school expel all students involved with the party.