For some, college learning comes in the form of classroom work, book reading, and late nights at the library. For others, it comes in the form of four years of public stupidity followed by confusion as to why people think you're acting like a dickbag. The Duke University fraternity behind a recent Pilgrims and Indians themed party seems to fall into the latter category.
According to the Duke Chronicle, one student who was invited to the Pi Kappa Phi party wasn't amused when she received an invitation, which read, in part,
In 1621 some crazy pilgrims had a pretty brutal harvest. Word on the street was they didn't have enough food for half the bros in Plymouth. Then some hot natives came along with some extra food.… On Saturday, the brothers of Pi Kappa Phi will be honoring that party spirit. There will be a cornucopia of treats in our modern-day teepee. Tap into your inner pocahotness, wear a few feathers and party like you don't care if you survive the winter.
(And this is the part where you're supposed to imagine bros high fiving.)
It's a formidable entry into the school's ongoing and highly competitive Tucker Max Impersonation Contest if I've ever seen one, with bonus points for how grating it is when smart people try to write like how surfers in Disney channel movies talk.
In spite of her hesitation regarding the party's theme, she attended anyway, and felt even more grossed out when she saw the costumes her fellow students were wearing. Based on her description, they sound like something from the cover of an indie rock album— white kids in feather headdresses, war paint, and faux buckskin, drinking firewater. Except they were smiling and taking shots rather than staring off into a big glowing triangle on the horizon.
After the party, the student, undergraduate Nicole Daniels, felt compelled to write an opinion piece in the campus newspaper. She writes,
This party was bigoted and racist, and such an event would never be tolerated if other races were involved. Would Duke students attend a "master and slave" themed party where guests were invited to wear blackface? How about a party where students dress up like Nazis and Jews? Surely these events would trigger student objection and national media attention, and rightfully so. Yet "Pilgrims and Indians" did not faze Duke University. Students dressed up for fun at the expense of Native Americans, a race that was exploited and exterminated for centuries. The only props missing from the party were smallpox-infected blankets.
I'm sure there were some blankets present at the party that did not escape becoming infected with something, but point taken. Native Americans were marginalized and erased like many ethnic groups throughout history, yet it's pretty widely accepted that mocking and sexifying those groups is both tacky and awful. Why do otherwise intelligent people insist on clinging to their right to use "Native American" as a party theme?
She went on, arguing that reducing a wide range of people and culture to a fun, sexy costume and party idea reduces the people who are a part of that culture to characters.
Unsurprisingly, some students who commented on Daniels's opinion piece saw nothing wrong with parties where invitees are invited to show up dressed as horny racial minorities. Some told her to lighten up and enjoy college instead of being a buzzkill mass murderer of fun. One commenter noted,
I think Nicole has a great point here—it is inappropriate to dress up as Native Americans because most costumes ultimately end up becoming ignorant stereotypes. Thanksgiving themed costume parties are wrong and insensitive, and they should not exist. However, the injustices don't end there. I've heard of parties that encourage the attendees to comes dressed in 80s style clothing, and of course, the party goers show up in hyper-sexualized and largely uneducated costumes of people from the 1980's and make a mockery of an entire generation. Much like the Native Americans did NOT have a monolithic culture, the people of the 1980's were varied and only dressing in neon and tights is offensive.
Brilliant satire there and apt comparison if the 1980's had concluded with a mass genocide of all members of the Brat Pack followed by a forced thousand mile March of the Valley Girls to Oklahoma. Try again.
Other students were supportive of Davis, lamenting the comments defending the party. If I were a Duke student, I'd lament the shit out of those comments, too; they're part of a long tradition where one contingent of Blue Devils does their darndest to make the rest of the country think that all Blue Devils are douchebags.
Daniels emailed the president of the fraternity but, as of the writing of her opinion piece, had received no response.
Phi Kapp party fuels anger [Duke Chronicle]