Yesterday, Greek Life representatives at the University of Denver publicly apologized for a Cowboys and Indians-themed party dubbed "piercingly offensive" by DU's Native Student Alliance. And while the university's chancellor didn't attend, he has arranged to meet with alliance members next week -- a development that contrasts sharply with dismissive online comments about the issue from what the group's adviser calls "spineless vermin."
As we've reported, the February 25 party was sponsored by the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority. Attendees were encouraged to outfit themselves as either cowboys or Indians. Those who made the latter choice donned what an Alliance release describes as "phony headdresses, face paint, loincloths and all manner of stereotypical viciousness."
Alliance members found out about the bash a few days later after coming upon photos posted to a Facebook page. Here's an example:
After the Alliance excoriated the event in a letter to the executive director of campus activities, who oversees Greek Life on the DU campus, a series of meetings took place, and the frat and sorority in question penned apologies they agreed to read yesterday near a tepee erected on the campus' Driscoll Green.
According to Simon Moya-Smith, a DU graduate student, Ogalala Lakota member and Alliance adviser, approximately 100 people attended the event, including many Lambda Chi and Tri-Delta members. DU chancellor Dr. Robert Coombe wasn't among them due to a scheduling conflict, but Moya-Smith is pleased he's committed to an upcoming conversation.
"We're happy and excited that the chancellor is finally going to sit at the table with us, not only to talk about the apology, but also about the future," Moya-Smith says. "DU likes to talk about 'inclusive excellence,' and we want to look at how we can put some gusto behind this campaign -- how we can get it moving, get things in motion and actually do things instead of just talk about them."
As for yesterday's gathering, Moya-Smith calls it "a good start -- and it was a very emotional day, because many of the Native Student Alliance members were able to address what they've had to go through in their time at DU. They were specifically addressing not just the Greek Life leadership, but also administrators and staff at DU -- retelling stories about how much persecution they've had to endure at DU, and how they're sick and tired of it. Yesterday was an opportunity to finally open up and tell people face to face what the apology really meant to them."
Moya-Smith notes that the Cowboys and Indians party was one of several dubious incidents that have arisen in recent months. Preceding it was a Greek Council meeting at which some participants were allegedly dismissive of the Alliance's protest against Columbus Day, a proposed "How the West Was Won" homecoming theme ("The West wasn't won, it was stolen," Moya-Smith says) and a planned Pilgrims and Indians fete around Thanksgiving that was only deep-sixed after the Alliance raised objections.
With the Cowboys and Indians party, "that was four smacks in the face in one academic year," Moya-Smith points out, "and that's just too much. It shows how disconnected the university is from its American Indian students."
Of course, the larger public isn't always sympathetic to such complaints, as witnessed by many comments affixed to our original post. Moya-Smith was especially frustrated by posts that equated the party to St. Patrick's Day, and noted that people of Irish descent don't get upset when people dress up like leprechauns. He stresses that "they're comparing a mythical figure to a very real people. The American Indian is not mythical. We're real, and we're here."
As for those who feel the Alliance's complaints are an example of political correctness taken to an extreme, he says, "We're not surprised by that. We understand that perspective is out there. But when we give them an opportunity to address us face to face, instead of anonymously online, they're nowhere to be found. They're cowards, they're spineless vermin. We told them we'd be at DU at four, but all they want to do is talk their shit online. Where's their backbone? If that's how you felt, come down and tell me."
The Lambda Chis and Tri-Delts did show up, however, and that gives Moya-Smith hope. "It takes courage to meet people you've offended, so I give them that. Getting people to the table to meet with us is almost an impossibility, so when we can get a dialogue going, it's both commendable and rare."
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He just wishes such a conversation had come about without the party fallout. As he puts it, "I'm just sorry any of this had to happen at all."
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More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Occupy Denver endorses Colorado American Indian Movement's indigenous proposal."