We have been discussing the rise of groups on campuses that assert the right not to simply protest but to prevent other students from hearing speakers or participating in events. The latest such incident occurred last week at the University of Virginia where members of a social justice group called UVA Students United disrupted a “cops and robbers”-themed party at a campus fraternity. The group would not allow a party that it claimed made “a joke of systems that kill and brutalize marginalized communities.” Ultimately, the party was canceled.
UVA Delta Psi chapter’s party the frat brothers dressed in orange jumpsuits and their dates dressed as police officers. The group objected to the party on Facebook and insisted that “These ‘costumes’ make a joke of mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex, systems that disproportionately brutalize people of color.” Rather than focus on convincing fellow students, it moved to impose its view on other students.
The group objected that
“These ‘costumes’ make a joke of mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex, systems that disproportionately brutalize people of color. The predominantly white members of this fraternity got to take their costumes off at the end of the night, people trapped in the prison system do not . . . Historically, the police have justified violence against people of color in the name of protecting white women, and in wearing these costumes, these women made a joke of that legacy of violence.”
So it could either be a fun costume party for couples or a celebration of government sanctioned white supremacy. Most of us would gravitate toward the former, but universities are places for a wide array of views.
“During confrontations with people at the party, the majority of partygoers asserted that they had no intention of ‘offending or hurting anyone.’ It’s this kind of willful ignorance that allows white supremacy to continue.”
The Frat tried to convince the group for an hour to leave and then called the campus police about the trespass. Rather than reaffirming the right of the fraternity to hold the party, it was decided to cancel the event.
Henry Crochiere, the Inter-Fraternity Council president and a fourth-year College student, issued an apology for the holding of the costume party. “The Inter-Fraternity Council acknowledges that the theme, while not overtly reprehensible, is potentially offensive to members of the community. As a result, we thought it was best to end the party and other Delta Psi events planned for the weekend in order to reevaluate the situation.”
If the standard is not to be “potentially offensive” to any group, it would be hard to hold any costume party. Even a safari theme would bring out animal rights activists or other groups. What concerns me is that we are reaffirming that such groups can shut down events and speeches. The message is that any activity that offends anyone or any group (even if not “overtly reprehensible”) is impermissible.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the prison system is almost 59 percent white. However, the black population in prison is almost 38 percent (while it is 13 percent of the population at large).