UCLA fraternity, sorority criticized for 'Kanye Western' theme party

Members of the Afrikan Student Union at UCLA staged a rally at the Westwood campus Thursday to protest a "Kanye Western'' fraternity party that some students have criticized as being racially insensitive, with some students apparently wearing blackface.

According to the Daily Bruin, the UCLA student newspaper, the Tuesday night party was thrown by the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Alpha Phi sorority and was quickly disparaged after photos began circulating online of party attendees.

Some photos showed women with padded rear-ends, in an apparent effort to emulate Kanye West's famous wife, Kim Kardashian.

From Phil Shuman:

On the UCLA campus today, it seemed everyone was buzzing about it. "It'' was the article in the Daily Bruin, and the pictures that were online, showing a frat party Tuesday night, which some interpreted as racist and insensitive. Dubbed a ''Kanye Western'' party, there were photos on Instagram of some people with what was described as charcoal rubbed on parts of their faces, which some reported as ''blackface'', others in baggy clothes and artificially puffed up lips and padded butts, a la the Kardashians But it was the blackface allegations that upset so many, which led to a large and loud protest on the campus, largely by black students (about 4% of all UCLA undergrads) who said this was evidence racism was still alive.

''Why come in blackface'', if you're trying to be funny, one junior told me. Another, a senior, said it was part of the ''colonial" mentality. The chant ''Black Bruins Matter" was heard over and over again. Most of the white students I spoke with really didn't want to get into it, but one was sympathetic and another said ''a line clearly has been crossed."

I haven't had the opportunity to speak to any of those who put on the party, or hear what they were thinking. We do know the national headquarters of Sigma Phi Epsilon says the UCLA fraternity has temporarily suspended activities as it investigates the incident. UCLA said Alpha Phi sorority's social activities have also been temporarily suspended. "Building diverse and inclusive communities is core to our identity as an organization, and we have zero tolerance for racist behavior," the organization's spokesman, Beaux Carriere, said in a statement. "Sigma Phi Epsilon will continue to work with the university and UCLA community to investigate these claims and hold students accountable for any inappropriate behavior."

The national chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon has said it is investigating the party, and issued a statement saying it has "zero tolerance for racist behavior.''

Officials at UCLA are also investigating the party. The university responded in a statement:

"We are concerned about these allegations and earnestly working to gather information about what occurred, talking to all those involved. While we do not yet have all the facts, the alleged behavior is inconsistent with good judgment as well as our principles of community. 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. Put simply: Just because you can do something does not mean you should."

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