Stereotype issues to be addressed

By Meghan O'Kelly

When Kurt Kafka, senior in LAS, dressed up as a Nazi for the party he threw on Sept. 28, he said he did not intend to offend anyone.

“We only invited people who wouldn’t be hurt by it,” he said. “It was just within friends.”

Kafka and his roommates hosted an event that the Facebook invitation called a “stereotype party.” The invitation called for guests to dress as their favorite stereotype, offering a discount on cups for those who dressed up.

“The people dressed as sluts or rednecks or my own – Nazi – were all our own,” he said, adding that 30 people attended. “That’s what we are all stereotyped as. We were only making fun of ourselves and our own stereotypes.”

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renee Romano said she has not spoken with the students involved; however, she thinks that even those who do not claim to have bad intentions can have a negative influence on the campus atmosphere.

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“Just because someone doesn’t intend to hurt someone, it doesn’t change the fact that it does hurt someone,” Romano said.

Zenobia Ravji, senior in LAS and head of the Illinois Student Senate cultural and minority student affairs committee, said these kinds of events perpetuate racial tension on campus and negatively reflect on the University. She proposed a resolution at the Oct. 10 senate meeting to denounce the party and label it detrimental to the goals of the University.

“If you’re part of the University, you’re representing the University whether you like it or not,” Ravji said.

In an Oct. 5 mass e-mail, Romano called for a town hall meeting and invited all to attend and examine the issues of intolerance and racism and discuss how they fit into the context of the University’s values. She said the administration is taking a proactive approach to these issues and is looking forward to an open and honest conversation.

“I think the point is that we have a conversation about this and learn what the administration can and can’t do,” Romano said. “I’d be very happy if students came away with a better understanding and a resolve not to participate in these acts.”

Domonic Cobb, interim associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs and director of Intercultural Relations, will serve as the meeting’s moderator. He said the meeting will open with remarks from Romano followed by a panel discussion. The five-person panel will include Romano; director of the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society Jorge Chapa; and two students and a legal perspective who will assist in the discussion of First Amendment rights, Cobb said. A question and answer session are set to follow.

“Really, the most important perspective is the sixth with the students and the community with the Q and A,” Cobb said. “It is important to give students the opportunity to talk to each other about what it means to be in an environment where we have these kind of events.”

Romano said she expects that the town hall will be one of many similar conversations to take place throughout the year, and she hopes smaller discussions can take place in residence halls, Greek houses, cultural houses and among other student organizations.

“I want to let people know what’s going on in terms of what the administration is doing,” Romano said. “I am happy that as a community, we can discuss these issues of stereotype parties and other acts of intolerance.”

Kafka said he is unsure about whether he will attend Tuesday’s meeting. He said his intentions have been misunderstood and wishes he would have been approached before the Senate resolution was proposed.

“There’s a lot of things that get misconstrued with something called a stereotype party,” he said. “Before jumping to conclusions and having town hall meetings about it, someone should ask some questions.”

Cobb said the meeting is not intended to focus on this party in particular or point fingers.

“We’ve been having these themed parties for a long time, and they’ve weighed on the community in different ways,” Cobb said.

Romano said she believes being culturally competent and developing a sense of awareness is an important component of the University experience.

“I believe it is part of a student’s education here to learn about these issues,” she said. “People are going to have difficulty in a multicultural world if they can’t have a sense and understanding of people with different views.”

Town hall meeting

Tuesday, Oct. 23

7 to 8:30 p.m.

Courtyard Cafe, Illini Union.