Homecoming weekend is a time for Kent State students to show school pride by rocking their blue and gold while cheering on the football team and representing their favorite organizations on campus during the homecoming parade. On Saturday October 1, members of Kent State’s Spanish and Latino Student Association (SALSA) planned on enjoying the sunny weather by marching in the homecoming parade.
Liza Henriquez a junior english and applied conflict management major and the Vice President of SALSA expected more people to come out to the homecoming parade this year. “Since it was nice out this year, we expected it to be bigger and bring more people,” Henriquez said. “Overall, I expected a positive experience.”
Instead of cheers and support from the crowd, SALSA was faced with discriminatory chants allegedly from Sigma Chi, a Kent State fraternity. Members of Sigma Chi began to chant “build that wall,” a phrase referring to Trump’s national defense platform.
SALSA’s publicist; Amanda Michalak, a senior political science major, said she saw students chanting when SALSA was walking through fraternity row. “It started with one or two and then the people around them started and then the people around them started,” Michalak said. “It would probably be around 20 or 30 people.”
Michalak was able to identify members of Sigma Chi by the Greek letters on their t-shirts.
“I drove by later in the day just to confirm the location, what they were wearing and what letters they wore,” Michalak said. “When I saw them, I was like okay, there’s the e and the x, and then I looked it up and was like yeah, that’s them.”
Henriquez marched in the parade and heard the chanting. She said some members were confused and started to get upset while one member fought back.
“One of our friends raised her flag higher, putting it in their faces, like I don’t care that you’re screaming at me,” Henriquez said.
SALSA posted a photo from the parade on their Facebook page explaining why they were upset. They screenshotted the photo and tweeted it to President Beverly Warren. Warren apologized and said she would ask Shay Little, Vice President of Student Affairs to explore their concerns.
President of Sigma Chi, Samuel White apologized, but denied it was his fraternity.
“Those types of things we don’t condone,” White said. “Our values are strong to us. Respect is a big factor. We’re doing our research too.”
Jennifer Kulics, associate vice president for the Division of Student Affairs said the Sigma Chi Headquarters has been contacted and issued a Seven Day Letter. “This means the chapter has seven days to respond with a written report on what occurred and that response is due back to the headquarters early next week,” Kulics said. “The headquarters reviews the statement [and] responses and decides to take action, investigate more or take no action.”
Kent State University prides itself on its diverse population. Its policy regarding discrimination and harassment states: “Harassment directed toward an individual or a group, through any means, including electronic, and based on any of these categories is a form of unlawful discrimination.”
Kent State is not the only university where students have been caught making racially offensive comments.
A former Kansas State student was expelled after a Snapchat photo of her and her friend wearing a black clay mask with the n-word as part of the caption went viral.
A Belmont University student was also expelled for a Snapchat photo, where he used the n-word and disagreed with three Philadelphia Eagles players holding up their fists during the national anthem.
At the University of Maryland, a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity sent an email to six other members using the n-word as well as racial slurs directed toward Indian and Asian women.
Henriquez and Michalak don’t believe the brothers of Sigma Chi should be expelled, but they need to acknowledge their actions and the university needs to educate students more on race and tolerance.
“I feel like with expulsion you’re just perpetuating the same thing to happen at another place,” Henriquez said. “So, I feel like they should address it by learning about it, like having programs at school to gain consciousness about the issue.”
People are not born racist but are products of the predominantly white environment they grew up in. Students like the brothers of Sigma Chi learned their behavior either through the media, racist friends and family or simply viewing the world through their privilege lens and disregarding any empathy for people of color.
For the brothers of Sigma Chi to be expelled would mean the discrimination on Kent State’s campus wouldn’t disappear but rather become more insidious. Students would choose to express offensive remarks in more private settings, which would make it harder to find and expose the perpetrators. However, more action needs to be taken by President Warren and the University. SALSA should have not left the parade feeling that their heritage was attacked.
Kent State’s brand is Undeniably Kent State. “We welcome you with open arms, yet push you out with an open mind.”
Living up to its values should be far more important to Kent State than protecting and maintaining one fraternity.
Universities need to educate students about the line between free speech and hate speech and provide safe spaces where acts of racial hostility are not tolerated. It’s a right, not a privilege, for every student regardless of their background to be able to comfortably call their university “home.”