Student groups' statements on Kappa Alpha Theta photos

Update: 5:17 p.m. with statement from Columbia's chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta

In the interest of keeping student groups' statements on Sunday's release of information about a Kappa Alpha Theta event Saturday night on the same page, we will update this Spectrum thread with full versions of student groups' responses as they come in.

We have decided to disable comments on this post in order to keep the discussion in one location. Please feel free to leave comments on the original article here.

Here's a statement from Columbia's chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta, received Tuesday afternoon:

To whom it may concern,

We – wrongfully and regretfully – used stereotypes a few days ago in a manner that we now recognize was insensitive and unacceptable. We were wrong, and we are truly sorry for our actions surrounding the weekend’s events.

Our organization prides itself on being a group of “leading women.”  Our actions were not the actions of leaders.  We embarrassed ourselves, our families and our university.

We will do many things as a result of our mistakes.  First and foremost, we'll learn from them.  We are committed – as an organization and as individuals – to educating ourselves about cultural differences and the harmful effects of furthering stereotypes.  We’ll start by reaching out to the leaders of several campus organizations in hopes of partnering together to advance multicultural awareness within our community.

Secondly, we will not attempt to make justifications or excuses for what we've done.  We've made these mistakes, and we will not make a subsequent one by failing to own up to our wrongdoings.

Finally, we will take as many steps possible to make amends with the populations we have hurt most. That starts with this apology.  However, we know actions speak louder than a written apology.  And we can only hope that our commitment to advancing multicultural awareness and owning up to what we've done can – over time – prove our sincerity.  Only then, could we ask for forgiveness.


The Epsilon Upsilon Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta

Here's a statement from Chicano Caucus about the photos of the group's station at Glass House Rocks, released to Spectator and other publications early Tuesday morning:

On Thursday, February 13th, Chicano Caucus participated in Glass House Rocks 2014: Under the Sea, showcasing the southwestern coastal regions of Mexico through papel picado, lotería, face cut-outs, and traditional cuisine.  We would like to apologize to anyone we offended with the images of the face cut-outs.

It is regrettable that only one of the many aspects we sought to share was singled out, neglecting the overarching theme.  However, our event at Glass House Rocks was far from a trivial representation of our Mexican heritage; it was a means through which we paid tribute to one of the many cultures within Mexico, combating the very issue of cultural unawareness.  We attempted to address the stereotypes imposed upon us by showcasing their underlying truths: the places and peoples they actually pertain to. It is very easy to release certain images without context, and we feel that this is only taking away from the real issue at hand.

We reiterate that cultural appropriation is an issue that needs to be continually discussed and addressed on all levels. The concerns raised by both of these events (1) (2) are starting points to bring about tangible change to our campus community. As we move toward this goal, we hope it will include the participation of Columbia’s student organizations and administration.

Furthermore, we would like to be a resource for those with questions or concerns. We invite those who wish to discuss this situation to Chicano Caucus’ open meeting on Thursday, February 27th at 9pm.  For further details on the location of this meeting, please contact the Chicano Caucus presidential co-chairs: Rubén Chaidez ( and Trinidad Reyes (

-Chicano Caucus Executive Board


Here's a statement from the InterGreek Council, released early Tuesday morning:

February 25, 2014

To the Columbia and broader community: In light of recent events involving organizations within Columbia’s Greek community, the Columbia University Inter-Greek Council, consisting of the Inter-Fraternity Council, the Multicultural Greek Council, and the Columbia University Panhellenic Association, is currently working to develop campus-wide initiatives that will improve upon the current dialogue surrounding social awareness issues at our University. We look forward to using this opportunity to find new ways to promote social consciousness in a manner that contributes to a vibrant multicultural community emphasizing diversity, inclusiveness, and mutual respect.

We are committed to addressing the issues at hand and will be sure to further communicate with the greater community regarding our efforts.


Bishoy Ameen, Inter-Fraternity Council President

Jennifer Ngo, Multicultural Greek Council President

Jessica Chi, Columbia University Panhellenic Association President


Here's a statement from Terry Martinez, interim dean of student affairs, released on Monday:

February 24, 2014

Dear Students,

I am incredibly saddened and disappointed to learn of students in our community participating in costume caricatures of several different nationalities.  It is our utmost responsibility to ensure that your living and learning environment is free from any act or behavior that degrades individuals or groups, including racially or culturally- based insensitivity.  I want to reaffirm our collective commitment to maintaining a supportive environment and call for us to be civil to and responsible for one another. While the intention may have been harmless, the actions taken have had an impact that may have not been intended.

As such, the bias-related response team, which is comprised of members across Student Affairs including the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Fraternity and Sorority Life, are currently reaching out to potentially impacted communities to offer support and follow-up.

Furthermore, the “We’re a culture, not a costume” awareness campaign, which originated at Ohio University’s Students Teaching About Racism in Society and which the OMA has brought to Columbia annually since 2011, reminds us that while the intent of individuals may be benign or even in jest, the impact on a campus community can be harmful and hurtful by perpetuating reductive stereotypes.  The national and widespread reach of this campaign also conveys that these microaggressions unfortunately are pervasive, and that we need to continue our collective efforts to substantively address systemic issues that perpetuate such incidents. Accordingly, I hope this is a learning moment for our community.

I would also like to remind our entire community of the Community Principles, which were developed together by students and key administrative offices across all four undergraduate schools.

Several key points include:

  • We are all responsible to this community and affirm that we treat each other with respect and dignity.
  • Members of our community act with honesty by accepting accountability for their words and actions, and maintaining the integrity of the community as a whole.
  • As members of the University with different experiences and ideas, we actively engage each other to understand, appreciate and accept our various identities.

No campus community is removed from larger systemic issues, but Columbia University is committed to fostering a learning environment that free from discrimination and bias. As members of this community, I thank you for your efforts in making our campus a safe, friendly, and welcoming place.


Terry Martinez

Interim Dean of Student Affairs


Here's a statement from Moeko Nakada, BC '15 and president of the Columbia Japan Society, received at 4:07 p.m. Monday:

I'm sure that the sisters of Kappa Alpha Theta had no ill intentions to hurt the members of the Japanese community but it is still truly regretful and hurtful that they chose to perceive and interpret our country through such behavior. I hope that this incident can provide an opportunity for the sisters of Kappa Alpha Theta to deeply reflect upon their actions.
Moeko Nakada
Columbia Japan Society, President

Here's a statement from the Panhellenic Association, received at 6:18 p.m., Sunday:

Columbia University Panhellenic Association

Statement to the Columbia Daily Spectator

February 23, 2014

The Columbia University Panhellenic Association fully recognizes the seriousness of the issue at hand and sincerely apologizes for any harm that these pictures may have caused. We are taking this matter very seriously and are working directly with members of the organization involved to address the situation thoroughly. We would like to stress that the concerns brought to light by this incident do not at all reflect the shared values of the Panhellenic community, or of Columbia’s greater Greek community, but rather the unfortunate and unintentional misjudgment of a few individuals.

Though it is our understanding that the photos were not posted with the intent to offend or alienate any group or individual, the Panhellenic Association would also like to emphasize that it does not at all condone behavior or language representing any form of cultural insensitivity, whether intentional or not. Moving forward, we will continue engaging in conversations and educational efforts with our chapters’ members and leaders to promote a strong understanding of, and commitment to, the diversity we so deeply value within the Greek community, on campus, and beyond. Again, we truly apologize for any harm the incident and photos in question may have caused and are actively working to rectify the situation, as well as to address the concerns of the community, to the best of our ability.

A statement from Chicano Caucus, received at 12:07 a.m., Monday:

Chicano Caucus Executive Board Response to Cultural Appropriation

On Saturday, February 22nd, photographs of Columbia’s Kappa Alpha Theta members dressed in stereotypical Mexican attire surfaced on social media sites and came to the attention of Chicano Caucus’ executive board.

While we understand that the actions taken by these members may not have intended to be harmful, they were in fact offensive. Stereotypes are used to oppress marginalized communities. These pictures caricaturize Mexican culture and should not be overlooked. The attire trivializes an entire nation’s history, its peoples, and its cultures, reducing them to a mere mustache and sombrero. Though the attire was meant to represent Mexico in a game of Beer Olympics, in actuality it perpetuates the American stereotype of the sombrero-wearing Mexican-American migrant worker, distorting the culture into a form of entertainment.

That’s not to say that members outside of the Mexican culture cannot dress in our cultural garb or partake in our traditions. However, altering the Mexican flag is not the way to participate in a respectful manner. One way a nation is able to share its culture is through its respective flag. The center of the Mexican flag displays an eagle holding a serpent atop a cactus, symbolizing the founding of Tenochtitlan, what is now Mexico City. In the pictures, the students wear what is meant to be the Mexican flag, but it is defaced through the removal of the national coat of arms in order to include the letters of sorority insignia. This act strips away a foundation of our culture and pride.

After the incident was made public, one of Chicano Caucus’ presidential co-chairs received a verbal apology from the president of Columbia’s Kappa Alpha Theta chapter, and we appreciate the gesture. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. In fact, similar situations have occurred in the past with other organizations on Columbia’s campus. These photos reflect a larger issue at Columbia University in which cultural consciousness is not at the forefront of social and academic dialogue.

While we cannot speak for every Mexican, Mexican-American, or Chican@, we feel that any form of cultural appropriation is humiliating and perpetuates that group’s oppression in the United States by reinforcing a general culture of disrespect.

The term “cultural appropriation” is not one that is discussed often at Columbia, and it is not one that is easy to define. We hope that these photos promote campus-wide discussions as to what “cultural appropriation” entails and why it is a controversial topic to groups who are often the subjects of such actions.

One of Chicano Caucus’ goals is to initiate and participate in activities that foster inter-group relations among the Columbia University community. We want to use this opportunity as a starting point to establish a coalition against cultural appropriation to actualize institutional change within Columbia University.

Tangible solutions need to be reached so that this does not happen again.

-Chicano Caucus Executive Board

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Moeko Nakada's, BC ’15, statement was given on behalf of the Columbia Japan Society. In fact, the statement was only from her in her role as president of the group. Spectator regrets the error.