Updated, 1:30 a.m. with a statement from Chicano Caucus.
Photos on social media that were posted and later removed showed students in Columbia’s chapter of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority wearing costumes depicting several nationalities at an event Saturday night. The photos were sent to Spectator in tip emails Sunday morning.
Two of the photos showed students in sombreros, mustaches, and shirts with Mexican flags and slogans that read “Down to Fiesta,” while others showed a group dressed as Germans and an individual as Ireland holding a sign that said, “Kiss me, I’m a famined potato.”
It was not immediately clear what the theme of the event was, but The Lion later reported that it was an Olympics-themed mixer co-hosted with the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. Bwog later posted pictures of other members of the sorority dressed up in a way meant to represent Japanese, Dutch, and Jamaican people. IvyGate reports that the party was registered with the administration.
The two photos of students dressed as Mexicans, which included sisters wearing the Greek letter theta on their T-shirts, were posted by sorority president Katie Barclay, CC ’15.
A Chicano Caucus statement released early Monday morning said that one of the group’s presidential co-chairs received a verbal apology from Barclay after the incident became public, and that they “appreciate the gesture.”
“While we understand that the actions taken by these members may not have intended to be harmful, they were in fact offensive,” the statement said. “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.”
“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,” the statement said.
In a statement sent to Spectator Sunday evening, the Panhellenic Association apologized “for any harm that these pictures may have caused” and pledged to engage with members moving forward.
“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,” the statement said. “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.”
Spectator has also reached out to the Columbia chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta, Theta’s national organization, Columbia’s Student Affairs office, Columbia’s chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, and representatives from Casa Latina.
Other sororities have come under fire for perceived insensitive costumes at events. IvyGate reported that the University of Pennsylvania's Beta Theta Pi fraternity and Chi Omega sorority threw a party last year where attendees wore fake knuckle tattoos and baggy hoodies at a “gangsta”-themed party.
In 2012, students in Penn State’s Chi Omega sorority came under investigation after hosting a “Mexican-themed party,” where students wore sombreros, ponchos, and mustaches and held signs reading “will mow lawn for weed + beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it.”
Just last year, students at Dartmouth College came under fire for a party held at the Alpha Delta fraternity with the Delta Delta Delta sorority, where attendees were asked to dress like “Bloods and Crips,” referring to the infamous street gangs.
Check back for updates.