Penn State Thinks Bigotry Is Protected by the First Amendment
Chi Omega's Penn State chapter is scrambling to do damage control after a photo from one of their themed parties went viral. What was the theme? The sorority says it was “Mexican,” but it went far beyond margaritas and tacos. Based on the picture, the theme looks closer to “Women of Privilege Stereotyping Mexican Day Laborers for Their Own Amusement.”
What do Mexican day laborers look like? According to the women of Chi Omega, they’re draped in ponchos, wear sombreros and usually have moustaches. As evidenced by the signs they're holding in the photos, they adhere to life credos like, “Will Mow Lawn for Weed + Beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it.”
Onward State reports that the picture was posted online for some time, but it was recently discovered to be that of Penn State’s Chi Omega chapter when it found its way to Facebook and some of the party’s attendees were tagged in it.
As a result, in the last 24 hours, a flurry of public condemnations have been issued, including those from Penn State’s Panhellenic Council and Chi Omega’s own national headquarters. The latter was quick to distance itself from the actions of its sisters at Penn State, citing that, “...personal degradation has no place in our organization, even if such behavior is meant facetiously or in jest.”
The Mexican American Student Association had what was perhaps the most poignant statement:
“Not only have they chosen to stereotype our culture with serapes and sombreros, but the insinuation about drug usage makes this image more offensive. Our country is plagued by a drug war that has led to the death of an estimated 50,000 people, which is nothing to be joked about.”
Today, Jessican Riccardi, president of the Penn State chapter of Chi Omega, issued this apology reported by The Daily Collegian:
“Our chapter of Chi Omega sincerely apologizes for portraying inappropriate and untrue stereotypes. The picture in question does not support any of Chi Omega’s values or reflect what the organization aspires to be.”
But perhaps almost as offensive as the picture is the fact that Penn State won’t actually do anything about it.
According to CNN, public relations director Lisa Powers said the school is not taking any disciplinary action against the students, though it expects that Chi Omega's national council most likely will.
"The students in the photo are within their First Amendment rights to express themselves in this way, although we are certainly appalled that they would display this level of insensitivity and lack of judgment.”
That seems like an expected move for a college known for having a permissive attitude when it comes to racial intolerance. The university’s own alumni have previously come forward to confirm what’s been characterized as institutionalized racism that administrators do little to address.
Just as important, Penn State protected a child rapist; the expectation that it would enforce consequences for the racism demonstrated by its students seem implausible.
No doubt the next few days will see a host of backlash commentary that inevitably all starts with the phrase, “I don’t see what the big deal is…” But stereotyping and mocking a group of people who have been or currently are oppressed is an act of bigotry. And slapping on a wash of “Hey, we’re just having fun,” only serves to normalize that bigotry.
What do you think should happen to Penn State's Chi Omega chapter? Let us know in the Comments.