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Party fuels intense debate

March 3, 2006

Robyn Kenagy | Lariat Staff
Alief sophomore Nekpen Osuan, center, asks Dr. James Henderson, a professor of economics, a question during an NAACP meeting addressing racism on campus Thursday evening in the Wiethorn Visitors Center.
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by SARAH GORDON,
staff writer

Upset students and a Sigma Alpha Epsilon adviser failed to smooth over racial tensions during a discussion at Thursday night's NAACP meeting in the Wiethorn Visitors Center.

A statement from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called a controversial party held at an SAE member's house last fall "insensitive," but SAE adviser Dr. James Henderson said the party stemmed from ignorance, not racism.

Latoya Butler, press and publicity officer for Baylor's chapter of NAACP, read a statement from the organization concerning the party's effect on the black population on campus.

The statement addressed several pictures that captured students wearing bandanas and holding 40-ounce bottles in brown paper during the party. One of the pictures depicted a student who covered herself in bronzer in imitation of a black person.

The party's theme, E-Dawg, refers to the name of a black, Seattle-based rap artist and a nickname for SAE fraternity members.

The pictures were posted on Facebook.com, where they were discovered by a Baylor student who brought them to the attention of the NAACP.

The statement declared that direct action should be taken and that "insensitive" activities such as these will not be tolerated at the world's largest Baptist university.

Although Henderson had no statement prepared, he answered many questions students had about the controversial party.

"While we think the intent of the gathering is being misinterpreted, we understand and are grieved that people are upset about it," Henderson said.

Henderson said he believes SAE is the most inclusive fraternity on campus.

He mentioned SAE's inclusion of blacks in its All-University Sing acts, its collaboration with Alpha Phi Alpha in Sing and SAE's involvement with Stompfest.

"I'm saying this is a group of students being labeled racist by some students. I know these guys personally, and I don't believe their intent was racist," Henderson said.

He said he believed that the individuals who organized the party were guilty of being ignorant, and some would view that as racist.

"Many of the white students we have on this campus have not experienced the racism you guys have on this campus; it's not a part of their background," Henderson told NAACP members.

Henderson said he thought the NAACP statement was asking for a concrete response from the administration that involved getting someone kicked off campus.

"I wholeheartedly disagree with that. I don't think that's the solution," Henderson said.

During the meeting, Henderson said there was a spectrum of individuals "invited" to the party.

"It was not an SAE party. It was an open party and some SAE members were there," Henderson said. "Members of the fraternity made up less than half of people there. There were members of other fraternities, sororities and a number of African-Americans there."

Conroe freshman DeAndre Upshaw said he was dissatisfied with Henderson's comments.

"His attitude was very hostile, and I don't believe he represented the organization well. Whenever he was asked a question, he skirted the issue. Instead of helping his cause, I think he damaged it," Upshaw said.

Butler said she also thought many of Henderson's comments and questions were hostile.

"I personally don't feel like he gave us what we were looking for," Butler said.

After the meeting, Henderson expressed remorse for the conflict caused by the party.

"We are more aware now of the deep feelings some African-Americans have on this issue. We apologize for our part in the role we played toward bringing these feelings on," Henderson said.

Henderson said he thought some people took the controversy to the extreme.

He said the fraternity is trying to be positive and work toward reaching an understanding between SAE and those hurt by the event.

"I don't know if anything I could have said would have helped. I know there were individuals hurt by this and I don't criticize them for wanting to lash out at someone," Henderson said.

He said although there were obviously more SAE members at the party, he only recognized two from the pictures posted on Facebook.com.

Henderson said SAE doesn't want to shift the blame onto any of the individuals involved.

"We are not trying to deflect the criticism on anyone else. If anyone wants to come forward, that's up to them," Henderson said.

Henderson said the fraternity will participate in Wednesday's public forum titled Dialogue of Difference, which is intended to educate students on cultural differences.

The forum will take place at 3:30 p.m. in the Barfield Drawing Room of the Bill Daniel Student Center.

"I'm pleased with the dialogue that went on tonight. I think next week's forum will be another piece to the solution," said Ramona Curtis, NAACP adviser and director for leadership development.

Curtis said the university has a Christian commitment to do more to ensure a "warmer climate" between people of different cultures.

"When you are building Christian men and women to go out into this diverse world, you have to open them up to this wider world. We have a responsibility to do that," Curtis said.

When asked why SAE members didn't attend the meeting, Henderson said there was no reason for them to be exposed to that type of environment.

He said he didn't believe television cameras promoted an atmosphere for open discussion.

Henderson said he thought part of the cause of racial tension is that students are influenced by how the media and Hollywood depict different cultures.

"Hollywood didn't host the party," Upshaw said about Henderson's remark.

SAE member Cullen Amend said there's one thing he and Curtis agree on.

"I want to reiterate the fact that we both feel like it's time to move forward. We shouldn't forget about what happened, but we should move on and learn from what happened," Amend said.