The six sorority members from University of Southern Mississippi who thought it was a good idea to go to a costume party in blackface are being punished — and all things considered, the sorority's response is pretty good.
According to the AP, the six members of USM's Phi Mu sorority, who haven't been identified, dressed as characters from the Cosby show at an off-campus party last week. The sorority got wind of it and has placed them on probation. They've also met with African-American student leaders. The Sun-Herald has more details: Phi Mu's national administration will require the USM chapter to host a campus-wide diversity program including a high-profile guest speaker. The university itself won't be taking disciplinary action because the offensive costumes were worn off campus and don't constitute a crime. USM Dean of Students Eddie Holloway said, "Though it is clear that these women had no ill intent, it was also clear that they had little cultural awareness or competency, and did not understand the historical implication of costuming in blackface." He added,
The women involved have been open, cooperative and contrite. We will use this as a teachable moment and motivation for dialogue on appropriate sensitivity and respect around issues of diversity.
While it seems like the university would have been well within its rights to officially reprimand the women, the sorority's response seems pretty solid. Dressing in blackface may not be illegal, but it certainly runs counter to the values any self-respecting sorority should want to uphold. Say what you want about the Greek system, but sororities' university and national leaderships can have a lot of power to enforce the kind of conduct they feel is appropriate for their members. This power doesn't always mean sorority women behave admirably, but it does mean sororities can send a loud and clear message if they so choose. You could argue that Phi Mu should have booted the girls, or that diversity events shouldn't be assigned as punishment. But at least the sorority's national administration is telling all its members that racist costumes aren't okay — and going extra mile of requiring that they learn why.
Southern Miss. Students On Sorority Probation After Dressing In Blackface For Off-Campus Party [AP, via Washington Post]
Sorority Sanctioned For Coeds In ‘Blackface' [Sun-Herald]
If you attended this party and have pictures of the students in blackface, please email us. We are willing to pay.